MCAS Testing This Year

MCAS Testing This Year

A question about testing was asked at a recent Principal’s Forum.  The answer was:  Yes, we are administering MCAS tests this year.  Districts in Massachusetts were given a choice this year to participate in MCAS or the new PARCC assessments.   Brookline elected to stick with MCAS for one more year.  46% of schools in Massachusetts will be administering MCAS and 54% will administer PARCC.

As in past years, during the second half of March, students in grades 3-8 will participate in MCAS testing for English Language Arts (ELA).  Students in these grades will have two sessions of testing on Reading Comprehension.  In addition, students in Gr. 4 and 7 will participate in a Long Composition test.   Testing in Mathematics (2 sessions Gr. 3-8) and Science (2 sessions – Gr. 5 & 8 only) will occur in May.

The March MCAS ELA schedule is as follows:

  • Grades 3 & 5: March 23 & 25
  • Grades 4 & 7: March 24 (Long Composition) and March 30 & 31
  • Grades 6 & 8:  March 26 & 27

The ELA test consists of reading passages representing different genres.   Students respond to two types of questions:  multiple choice questions and open response questions (written paragraphs worth 4 points each). Students in third grade also have short answer questions worth 2 points.   Students in fourth and seventh grade write a long composition (rough draft and final draft all in one day). Sample questions can be found on the Massachusetts DESE website at:  http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/testitems.html.

Test Preparation

Teachers prepare students for the testing by reviewing test-taking strategies and working with sample questions. A particular emphasis is placed on learning how to write a complete open response question.   Literacy and math specialists and special educators also work to provide a “double dose” of practice with the students with whom they work.

A word of caution comes from Tim Shanahan, a distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He recently wrote a piece called “How and How Not to Prepare Students for the New Tests,” in which he reminds us that the goal is not to prepare students for tests, but to make them “sophisticated and powerful readers.”  He suggests five steps to help students get there:

  1. “Have students read extensively within instruction.
  2. Have students read increasing amounts of text without guidance or support.
  3. Make sure the texts are rich in context and sufficiently challenging.
  4. Have students explain their answers and provide text evidence supporting their claims.
  5. Engage students in writing about text.”

In other words, the best test preparation is high quality teaching and learning every day.

 Testing: The National Picture

Nationally, we find ourselves in an interesting time and place in terms of the future of testing in our schools.   Congress has yet to act on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), popularly known as “No Child Left Behind.”  A key provision of NCLB has been annual testing in both English and Mathematics in Grades 3-8 and one year in high school.   Some in Congress are pushing to roll back that requirement and not test in both subjects in every grade.  It seems unlikely this change will happen, but there is definitely a growing pushback nationally on the amount time spent on testing.

Then we have the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org), which have been adopted by 43 states across the country.  In order to align new testing with the Common Core, two multi-state consortiums have formed to develop two different tests.  Smarter Balanced Assessments is one consortium comprised of 20 states.   PARCC is the other comprising 10 states and Washington, DC (including Massachusetts). A year ago, it appeared certain that Massachusetts would replace MCAS with PARCC in 2015-16.  However, the future is less clear now that PARCC has dropped a high of 24 states in 2011 to just 11 in 2015.  Whether or not PARCC will remain economically viable remains to be seen.

I, for one, am glad that the Public Schools of Brookline chose to hold off on PARCC. Brookline’s decision was made because certain accommodations for students would not be available and because a provision for extra time for all students was being eliminated.   In his recommendation to the School Committee last September, Superintendent Bill Lupini wrote:  “Although we are committed to high standards and assessments that provide us with critical information regarding student achievement as measured against these standards, it is clear that the PARCC assessments are not ready for system-wide use with Brookline students at this time.” I would add my own concerns about the number of test sessions required by PARCC, which are double the number of MCAS.

Stay tuned as decisions continue to unfold at the state and national level.  In the mean time, we will proceed with MCAS as in years past and parents can expect to receive results on their children’s performance next September.

Rick Rogers
rick_rogers@brookline.k12.ma.us

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