Testing in Massachusetts: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2009-2010 Massachusetts used the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS, pronounced "EM-cas") to test students in grades 3 though 8 and 10 in English language arts and math, and in grades 5 and 8 in science. Students must pass the grade 10 MCAS in order to graduate. Additionally, Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System Science and Technology/Engineering Tests (MCAS STE) tests in biology, chemistry, introductory physics and technology/engineering were administered to students in grades 9 and 10 enrolled in a corresponding STE course. Beginning with the class of 2010, the MCAS STE will be a high school graduation requirement. The MCAS tests are standards-based tests that measure specific skills defined for each grade or subject by the state of Massachusetts.

How are the tests scored?

MCAS results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of four levels: above proficient/advanced, proficient, needs improvement and warning/failing. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level on the test. Learn more on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level is displayed.

Why do the tests matter?

Massachusetts test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. This is especially important for high school students, who must pass the grade 10 English language arts and mathematics tests with a minimum score of 220 (needs improvement) in order to graduate. Beginning with the class of 2010, students will be required to pass both tests with a minimum of 240 (proficient), or score at least 220 and complete an "Educational Proficiency Plan" to qualify for a high school diploma. Also beginning with the class of 2010, high school students will be required to pass the MCAS STE exams in order to graduate, and the class of 2012 and beyond will have to pass a U.S. history test to graduate. Students have multiple opportunities to retake the tests if they do not pass the first time. The grade 10 MCAS results are also used to determine eligibility for Massachusetts' John and Abigail Adams Scholarship.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. Massachusetts offers a range of special programs for low-scoring students. These services include in-school tutoring and classes before and after school and in the summer. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

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