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Statewide Assessments: Changes Ahead

What’s changing?
Starting in Spring 2017, all school districts in Massachusetts will be required to implement a new version of the MCAS, often referred to as “MCAS 2.0.” Still under development, MCAS 2.0 will combine some elements of the current MCAS (which has been in place in Massachusetts for 18 years) and the computer-based PARCC.  

The MCAS 2.0 will be aligned to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and will be designed to be taken via computer.

Rather than leap into a completely new assessment next year, the Cambridge School Committee has voted to administer the ELA and Math PARCC in May 2016 as a transitional first step towards MCAS 2.0.

What are the benefits to taking PARCC in 2016?
With any brand new system, students and teachers need time to adjust to the format of the test itself. Our transition plan will give CPS an opportunity to see how students fare on a more rigorous assessment model. As explained by Superintendent Young in a recent blog post, the goal of administering PARCC this year is to take pressure off of our students and teachers while providing more time for us to finish aligning our curriculum with the Massachusetts Frameworks.

An additional benefit of adopting PARCC this year is that we will not be penalized if test scores go down in response to an unfamiliar testing format. In technical terms, we will be “held harmless” by the State. This means that we can learn from our test results without losing our Level 2 designation.

Cambridge joins the majority of school districts - 72% - who have adopted PARCC as a transitional step towards MCAS 2.0. When we finally implement MCAS 2.0 in 2017, students will find the experience to be similar to this year’s PARCC test.

Will any students still be taking MCAS?
Yes, in three instances, students will still be taking MCAS:
  1. All standardized testing in science will continue to use MCAS this year.
  2. The MCAS-Alt test for students whose disabilities require an alternative assessment model will remain in place for this year.
  3. 10th graders in Massachusetts will continue to use MCAS as the graduation requirement until 2019.
Will all schools have to use computer-based testing this year?
PARCC is designed to be taken on a computer, but there is a also paper-based version. This year, we asked each of our schools which version they would prefer to use. All but three schools have chosen to use the paper and pencil version of the PARCC test this year. This will allow their 3rd through 8th graders to adapt to new question types first, before trying out the computer-based format next year.

The three schools that will use the computer-based PARCC assessment are:
  • Haggerty Elementary School
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School
  • Putnam Avenue Upper School.
All schools in Cambridge use technology regularly in their classrooms, and these schools will have additional opportunities to practice skills such as drag and drop, highlighting, and multiple selection that are used in PARCC. Then, about two weeks before the actual test, they will do a “dry run” to familiarize students and teachers with technical details such as logging in, navigating the interface, and completing a few practice items. We hope this will make the transition to a computer-based test less stressful.

What about students with disabilities and English Language Learners?
Massachusetts and the developers of PARCC have set extensive testing guidelines for English Language Learners and for students with disabilities who may be on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan. As schools transition to computer-based testing, the design of accommodations may shift slightly. Please rest assured that all needed accommodations will be followed so that we can accurately assess all students based on their skills and learning.

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