Massachusetts chooses MCAS 2.0

In November, Massachusetts approved the MCAS 2.0 as the standardized test students will be required to take starting in the year 2019.

In November, Massachusetts approved the MCAS 2.0 as the standardized test students will be required to take starting in the year 2019.

On November 17 the board of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) approved “MCAS 2.0” as the standard test for high school graduation. Its purpose is to improve curriculum and evaluate student, school, and district performance. This new test will be in full effect in every school in the state by the year 2019, and it will integrate components of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The need for an up to date assessment started when the academic standards shifted from state standards to the national adoption of common core standards. This change and its impact on education has been widely debated among school districts across the country.

PARCC was created to potentially replace individual statewide assessments and is directly aligned with the common core standards. The common core standards were implemented in 2011 with the purpose of equalizing education across the nation. The idea was that every student would be held accountable to the same academic standards in every state across the country. “It makes sense to have a national assessment if we have the common core that is almost nationally used,” said principal Dr. Perrone. PARCC was made after many states changed from statewide to national standards a few years back.

In subjects like Mathematics and English, the common core has changed the way in which teachers teach and students learn. In English classes, students were introduced to more informational and nonfiction texts and shifted from a content based curriculum to a skill based curriculum. In math, students and teachers have had to adjust to teaching common core math. Mathematics Department Chair and Coach Mr. Haislip-Hansberry explained, “The Common Core asked us to look at math more conceptually and more deeply at times, therefore changing the rigor of what we may have taught before.” In other subjects the common core pushed for more focus on literacy and analysis in the classroom.

With more rigorous changes, comes a more rigorous test. In the 2014 through 2015 school year, West Springfield Middle School participated in a trial of online-distributed PARCC along with eleven other states. Because WSMS piloted the test the first time around they will do so again during the spring of 2016. Some differences between this assessment and MCAS is that it is computer-based and has a greater difficulty level. The English Language Arts/ Literacy questions were set up in a similar style to those in SAT’s. The students have to read and respond to multiple texts and synthesize the ideas in all of them by answering more complex multiple choice questions. After taking the test in the eighth grade, Freshman Kristine Kolontay shared that discomfort stemmed from long readings before a multiple choice section. The ability to annotate and take notes is not possible with this type of test. Along with scrolling through selections, students responded to questions after viewing video clips. The Mathematics portion had a different set up as well. The test taker has to answer by multiple choice, fill in the blanks, in a drop-down bar or by editing a graph. Kolontay also expressed fear in technology issues, “the Chromebooks would crash at any minute.” The MCAS 2.0 while not the same as the PARCC, is designed to be taken online, so schools will have to be ready to have the technology available to do so.

For the past eighteen years, all Massachusetts schools have been using the MCAS. The MCAS is a paper and pencil assessment that consists of English Language arts, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering tests while PARCC only focuses on two of those. MCAS 2.0 is going to take a little of the old MCAS and some of PARCC. While schools are evaluated based on the student scores and student growth measured by these tests, and 10th graders need to pass the test in order to graduate, this won’t be the case for the first two years new test goes into effect, 2016 and 2017. Arne Duncan, the US secretary of education, told the Boston Globe, “I have every confidence that Massachusetts will move in the right direction.”