'MCAS 2.0' results to be released this week

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It's October, and that means it's time for a semiannual discussion about MCAS.

This latest results will be publicly released just after midnight on Wednesday, and will include the spring 2017 state, district and school results from the so-called "next-generation" exams of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, also referred to as "MCAS 2.0."

Printed parent/guardian reports detailing individual student's results are scheduled to arrive in school district offices on Oct. 24, according to a Sept. 15 update on the testing system issued by Jeff Wulfson, acting commissioner of the state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Students in grades 3 through 8 took the revamped exams in English language arts and mathematics, while all 10th graders took the older, or "legacy" MCAS standardized tests in these categories. Legacy-style exams were also used in the grades testing in science, technology and engineering (STE), or grades 5, 8 and 10.

The scores reported for all next-generation exams will be used to set a baseline for future generations of test-takers. While accountability levels will be issued for the legacy tests, schools won't be held accountable to their next-generation scores this year.

Despite parent and special interest groups talking about opting students out of taking the exams, the state had 99 percent of students across all grades participating.

The next-generation exams, said to be more closely aligned with Massachusetts learning standards, were designed to be completed online. According to Wulfson's memo, about 250,000, or 60 percent, of the commonwealth's students in grades 3 through 8 took the computer-based

version of the test. For grades 4 and 8, where schools were required to administer the computer-based tests, more than 93 percent of students took the test on a computer.

"Computer-based testing went very smoothly," Wulfson wrote in the memo. "Although we received reports of isolated issues or problems, the testing system worked well overall, and virtually all students who were assigned to take a computer-based test did so successfully."

After issuing tests in the spring, the department surveyed schools that administered tests online. The survey yielded 411 responses. One revelation through these responses is that it was not so much connectivity that became an issue with the exams but having enough devices for students to use to take the tests.

"Sixty-five percent of respondents reported that the biggest challenge they face in moving to computer-based testing is the need for additional devices. Other factors identified by a large percentage of respondents included technology support, more days in the testing window, additional space, and staff training," the memo stated.

As this first rollout of next-generation MCAS tests and results continue to be rolled out, the state, districts and schools will have to clearly communicate the changes and differences in scores to students and parents, which include some new vocabulary and a new color-coded report.

One example of change are the terms used to describe the level at which a student is performing. For the spring 2017 results, the terms "advanced," "proficient" and "needs improvement," have been changed to "exceeding expectations," "meeting expectations," and "partially meeting expectations," under newer, and in many cases higher standards set by the state's consulting groups of educators and other stakeholders.

Looking ahead, schools, students and parents can expect to see questions, formats, and scoring metrics to be tweaked in the coming year leading up to the spring 2018 exams.

The state has put together a new online "Frequently Asked Questions" document to help answer some of the initial questions and concerns about the new exams, and new online and interactive documents will also be posted to the state education department's website in coming weeks.

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