By Doug Page
While the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) remains opaque about the level of Common Core-related content in the new MCAS 2.0 test, what is clear is the test’s achievement levels and their definitions.
As in the previous version of the exam, there are four achievement, or scoring, levels that gauge how well children in Grades 3-8 performed on the exam.
And similar to the former MCAS, this spring’s new test results won’t be released to parents and guardians until October, causing some Massachusetts public school educators — who requested anonymity — to label it “an autopsy” because students will be in the next grade by the time test scores arrive.
“The information is still useful in addressing areas where the child might need more help in the future,” DESE spokesperson Jacqueline Reis said. “We are supplying schools with preliminary results over the summer that can be used to plan instruction. To help teachers figure out where students excelled and struggled, we will give descriptions of all items so they can identify which skill was tested in that question.”
The late arrival of test scores prevents a suggestion from state Secretary of Education James Peyser from becoming a reality. During February’s Massachusetts Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Peyser suggested a new top achievement level — “Being Successful For The Next Grade Level.”
“We have a technical problem in referring to being ready for next year because the reports arrive in the parents’ hands next year,” DESE Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson told Peyser. Wulfson leads DESE’s efforts to create the new test.
At its March meeting, the BOE approved the following achievement level definitions for MCAS 2.0, which is being taken this spring by 425,000 Massachusetts students in Grades 3-8:
* Exceeding Expectations– A student who performed at this level exceeded grade-level expectations by demonstrating mastery of the subject matter.
* Meeting Expectations– A student who performed at this level met grade-level expectations and is academically on track to succeed in the current grade in this subject.
* Partially Meeting Expectations– A student who performed at this level partially met grade-level expectations in this subject. The school, in consultation with the student’s parent/guardian, should consider whether the student needs additional academic assistance to succeed in this subject.
* Not Meeting Expectations– A student who performed at this level did not meet grade-level expectations in this subject. The school, in consultation with the student’s parent/guardian, should determine the coordinated academic assistance and/or additional instruction the student needs to succeed in the subject.
Unlike previous years, when school districts were required to test at least 95% of their students or risk receiving a Level 3 rating (akin to a warning) based on a low participation, this year school districts will not automatically fall into that category if they assess at least 90% of their Grade 3-8 students. That changes next year, when federal education law requires all schools and school districts test at least 95% of their students, Reis says.
Reis also notes that this year’s percentage exception doesn’t apply to high schools. At least 95% of high school students in public school districts scheduled to take MCAS are required to be assessed to keep the school district out of a Level 3 rating.
In approving the new exam in November 2015, the BOE decided that low test scores will not be held against school districts this year. That changes next year, when MCAS scores will be counted toward a school district’s rating, from 1 (the best) to 5 (the worst).