On Monday evening, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education publicly released results from the two exams systems it used in 2016, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing system.
According to the state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester, schools were given the choice in the past two academic years, for grades 3-8, to either use the newer PARCC exams as a standardized way to evaluate students' knowledge in mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA), or to use the legacy MCAS, a format that has been in use for more than 20 years. This past spring, statewide, approximately 72 percent of students in grades 3-8 took PARCC, while 28 percent took MCAS, in comparison to 2015, when the testing system split was about 50-50.
The 10th-grade MCAS exams in math, ELA and science, technology and engineering are still a high school graduation requirement.
In the coming days, weeks and months, Berkshire County school administrators and educators will begin to unpack the latest test results and analyze the meanings of the numbers and ranking to present to families, school committees and towns. Some schools may face challenges in comparing one year's MCAS results with another year's PARCC findings.
But all will change in the next six to eight months.
"Things will change as we transition to our own next-generation MCAS, which we are in the midst of constructing as we speak," Chester said to reporters in a Monday afternoon press conference call.
While this past academic year schools had a choice, all schools are expected to administer the next-generation MCAS in Spring 2017 and henceforth. The state signed in August a five-year, $150.8 million contract with New Hampshire vendor Measured Progress to produce the new statewide assessment.
Commonly referred to as "MCAS 2.0," its authors aim to blend the best of the MCAS and PARCC tests to optimally evaluate whether students are retaining and applying the knowledge that they've gained and school, and whether it's at a high enough level for them to be ready for the next grade, for college and/or a career.
Beyond the cost, this transition will also be hefty for the state and its schools, who are considering how this will impact students.
Like its predecessor, the math and ELA exams will be the first to be administered, followed by the science and history-based exams in subsequent years.
An update on the development of the new testing system is scheduled to be presented today, at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's regularly scheduled Sept. 27 meeting. This will include a discussion on whether the Board should vote to extend the legacy 10th-grade MCAS tests in ELA and mathematics for an additional year, to encompass the graduation requirement for the class of 2020, which has yet to experience the full new exam set.