MCAS FAQs

1.  What are the State testing requirements?  MCAS was implemented in response to the Education Reform Law of 1993, which required that MCAS be designed to:

  • Test all public school students across the Commonwealth, including students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency
  • Be administered annually in at least grades 4, 8 and 10*
  • Measure performance based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework learning standards
  • Report on the performance of individual students, schools, and districts
  • Serve as one basis of accountability for students, school, and districts (for example, beginning with the class of 2003, grade 10 students must pass the MCAS test as one condition of eligibility for earning a high school diploma.  Students will be given multiple opportunities, if necessary, to pass the test between grade 10 and the end of their senior year.  In addition to passing the MCAS test, students must also meet local requirements for high school graduation.)
  • Beginning in 2001, students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 will be tested


​2.  What is tested on the MCAS?​  Learning standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework

  • English Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science and Technology Engineering

3.  What types of questions appear on the MCAS?  
Multiple-Choice Questions

  • Used in all content area tests
  • Students select an answer from four options

Short-Answer Questions

  • Used in Mathematics tests only
  • Students generate a brief response, for example, a short statement or computation leading to a numeric solution

Open-Response Questions

  • Used in all content area tests
  • Students create a one or two paragraph response in writing or in the form of a narrative or a chart, table, diagram, illustration, or graph, as appropriate

Writing Prompts

  • Used in English Language Arts tests only
  • Students write a composition based on the writing prompt, which may relate to a reading passage

​4.  How are the student answers scored?​  Over 6 million student responses are scored by professional scorers and Massachusetts teachers who have been specifically trained.  All open response answers are scored by professional scorers only.  The compositions are scored by Massachusetts teachers at the Summer Scoring Institutes held since 1998.  Responses to the open-response questions are scored using a scoring guide, or rubric.  MCAS scoring guides indicate what knowledge and skills students must demonstrate to earn a 1, 2, 3 or 4 point score.  Students' compositions are evaluated on two criteria
     1.  Topic development, based on a 1-6 score point scale
     2.  Standard English conventions, based on a 1-4 score point scale

​5.  How are test results reported?​  Results are reported for individual students, schools and districts according to four performance levels defined by the Board of Education:

  • Advanced
  • Proficient
  • Needs Improvement
  • Failing

​6.  How are test results used?​  
​Improvements in teaching and learning

  • Parents and students will use the results to monitor students progress
  • Local educators will use results to help identify strengths and weaknesses in curriculum and instruction

School and district accountability

  • The Board of Education has established standards for performance for districts that improve or fail to improve student academic performance, as required by the Education Reform Law

Student Accountability

  • Beginning with the class of 2003, students will be required to pass the MCAS grade 10 tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics as one requirement for a high school diploma.  Students will be given multiple opportunities, if necessary, to pass the tests. Students must also meet local graduation requirements for high school graduation, for example, completion of required coursework.

7.  Is ranking of districts and towns by MCAS scores available? The Massachusetts Department of Education does not rank cities or towns based on MCAS scores.  Often local media do take the statewide results and create their own rankings.  However, this is not ecouraged or enorsed by the Department of Education.

8.  Are all students required to participate?  ALL public school students in grades being tested including students

  • In charter schools
  • In institutional school programs
  • In educational collaboratives
  • Receiving publicly funded special education in private schools
  • With disabilities who either have an Instructional Education Plan (IEP) or receive section 504 instructional accommodations
  • Who are limited English proficient (unless they have been enrolled in United States schools for three years or fewer and who are ineligible for the Spanish-language version of MCAS)

The Education Reform Law of 1993 requires the participation of all public school students in grades being tested.  This law ensures that all students are provided with an opportunity to learn the material covered by the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks academic learning standards.  Home-schooled students are not enrolled in the public school system and are, therefore, not required nor entitled by law to participate in MCAS.  After MCAS has been fully implemented, the Department of Education plans to consider whether and under what circumstances it is feasible to permit privately educated students, including those being home-schooled, to participate in the MCAS testing program if they wish to do so.

9.  Can parents refuse their child's participation in MCAS?  Parents may not legally refuse their child's participation in MCAS.  Massachusetts General Laws chapter 76, Sections 2 and 4, establish penalties for truancy as well as for inducing unlawful absence of a minor from school.  In addition, school discipline codes generally define local rules for school attendance and penalties for unauthorized absence from school or from a required part of the school day.

10.  How do students with disabilities participate in the MCAS?  The students' IEP or Section 504 Team determines how the student will participate in MCAS.  If the Team determines that it is appropriate and allowed within the guidelines, certain testing accommodations are permitted.  If the Team determines that the student's disability prevents the student from taking the MCAS test, even with accommodations, the Team must develop an alternate assessment for that student which is appropriate to the student's academic development.  The Department is in the process of developing an alternate assessment for these students that will be available for MCAS administrations beginning in the 2000-2001 school year.

​11.  How do students with limited English proficiency participate in the MCAS?​  A Student with limited English proficiency (LEP) is defined as a ​student whose first language is a language other than English who is unable to perform ordinary classroom work in English.

​LEP students may receive instruction in a range of programs and settings that include:

  • Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) programs
  • Two-way bilingual programs
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) programs
  • Sheltered English language programs
  • Other language support or tutoring

Students with limited English proficiency in tested grades are required to take the MCAS test in English if they meet either of the following conditions:

  1. the student has been enrolled in school sin the (continental) United States for more than three years:  OR
  2. the student has been enrolled in schools in the (continental) United States for three or fewer years and will no longer be enrolled in a bilingual program or receive English as a Second Language support during the following school year.

Spanish speaking LEP students who have been enrolled in schools in the (continental) United States for three or fewer years must participate in the Spanish language version of the Mathematics, Science & Technology, and History and Social Science​ MCAS tests if the meet ​all three​ of the following criteria:

  1. the student does not have sufficient fluency in English to participate in the English language version of the tests; ​AND
  2. the student will continue to receive either instruction in a Transitional Bilingual Education program or English as a Second Language support in the school year; ​AND
  3. the student can read and write in Spanish.

If students do not satisfy the above criteria to take either the English language or Spanish language version of the MCAS tests, then they are not required to take MCAS tests.

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