Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About MCAS

MCAS testing begins for some grades next week. But what is this test? What does it measure? And why does it matter? We asked Principal Gabrielle Montevecchi to take us through MCAS 101 for Parents. Check out her responses to our questions below. The Massachusetts Department of Education also offers a handy MCAS Guide for Parents.

What is the MCAS test? Where did it come from?

MCAS is the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System which was originally developed in 1993. In grades 3 and 4 students take the English Language Arts and Math Assessments. This test was designed to insure that we hold consistently high standards throughout the grades in our Massachusetts public schools.

What is the goal of the MCAS? What does it seek to measure?

MCAS measures mastery of the learning standards at each grade level.

What do high or low MCAS scores mean for my kid?

We remind parents that MCAS is just one pieces of data and that your child’s performance at that grade level is measured by a variety of data points such as benchmark and unit assessments which are given throughout the year as well as in class performance. Your child’s classroom teacher is the best one to talk to if you have concerns about their individual performance.

What do high or low MCAS scores mean for our school?

The results of our MCAS testing help to guide the instructional practice in the building. MCAS results help us understand how our curriculum is preparing students toward the mastery of the standards. We are able to identify performance trends, examine the needs of students and develop goals for instructional focus.

What kind of questions does the MCAS feature?

Students will encounter both short answer and open response questions. The questions that are posed on the MCAS are very similar to their unit benchmark assessments. Throughout the year in grades 3 and 4 the students are working to respond to questions which require them to read and respond to questions related to a text as well as use their understanding of mathematical concepts to solve and answer questions. You may view samples of MCAS questions at doe.mass.edu.

What can we do to prepare?

The best preparation that parents can provide is to insure that your child gets plenty of rest, eats well and is on time for school during the testing days. We ask that parents provide positive encouragement for children to “show what they know”. Testng situations can make some children feel a bit nervous and this is normal. Let your child know that they will have all the time they need to take the test that day and that their work is not timed. Above all we tell the children “Don’t stress, just do your best.”

What happens during the actual test-taking? What can my child expect?

There are two sections to each subject area test and we break this up over four days. All students take the test on a computer. On testing days the children will begin testing by about 8:30am. Mr. Wood distributes the computers to all classrooms and checks attendance. The classroom teachers provide the directions to begin the testing. The classroom teacher remains in the classroom during the whole session.

Is opting out an option? What is the impact (if any) on my kid's record? What is the impact (if any) of opting out on my school?

Opting out is not an option. State and federal law requires that all students who are enrolled in the tested grades and who are educated with public funds participate in MCAS testing. When families refuse testing the school’s participation rate is adversely affected and our overall state rating can be negatively impacted.

From an educator's perspective, what is the value of the MCAS?

I value to results of the MCAS testing to measure how we are preparing our students toward mastery of the state learning standards. As a school we analyze the MCAS data and compare the performance of students on MCAS to their performance on our district assessments and overall classroom performance. This process is known as triangulation and it helps us understand what children are taking away from the learning experiences we are providing at Hannah. As a school community we are continually reflecting on our work and refining our practice in order to provide excellent learning outcomes for all students.

If you have MCAS questions for Principal Montevecchi, please reach out to her directly or email the PTO and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.