This week, the results from the most recent administration (spring of 2017) of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) are being released. For the first time, students in grades 3-8 participated in the new Next Generation MCAS (NextGen) in mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). This completely new test is unlike the original legacy tests to which we have become accustomed.
Over the next two years, the science and high school tests will also transition to computer-based NextGen assessments. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has been preparing to utilize a new test for some years now given that the state curriculum frameworks have been revised and the original test is no longer properly aligned to measure student performance on the standards. As this transition occurs, it is important for students and parents to understand a number of points:
- The Next Generation test is a completely new test with a different approach to assessing student performance. The results of the tests in grades 3-8 cannot be compared to last year’s results.
- DESE has made it clear that while in this first year of administering the NextGen test, fewer students across the state scored Exceeding or Meeting Expectation than scored Advanced or Proficient previously, this does not mean that students learned less. It reflects that the new test measures performance against the standards in a different way. In fact, DESE reports that when the original MCAS debuted in 1998, relatively few students scored Proficient, but that changed as students and teachers adjusted to the new expectations.
- The previous rating designations (Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement, and Warning) no longer exist. The new test uses a new set of ratings (Exceeds Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations, Not Meeting Expectations).
- The results from the spring 2017 tests will be used as baseline scores for future accountability ratings. As you may be aware, a new national education law is in place. DESE is working to align its accountability framework with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the same time the NextGen tests are being introduced. For at least this year, schools across the state that participated in the NextGen test will not be given an accountability rating (in our case, Brookside, Campbell, Greenmont, Engelsby, and Richardson).
- The fact that the Richardson Middle School will not receive an accountability rating this year is rather disappointing, as the district had received strong indications from officials at DESE that its continued steady progress had, in fact, placed it in a position to shed its previous Level 3 status.
- The high school tests remain the legacy versions so high schools across the state will continue to receive accountability ratings. Dracut High continues to perform strongly in comparison to other high schools in the region and has been recognized by DESE for its efforts.
We have been preparing for the transition to the NextGen tests for a few years and are well prepared to support our students:
- While the district has not and will not practice “drill and kill” as a method of teaching to the test, teachers across the district have been incorporating MCAS questions into their instruction as a method of improving the general test-taking skills of our students. Our efforts will continue to be focused on providing a relevant instructional program that values growth over any one test score.
- Knowing that the NextGen tests are all computer-based, we have worked diligently to prepare our classrooms for true 21st Century learning. To the credit of the town, all of our schools are fully wireless environments where teachers are utilizing the hundreds of Chromebook devices the district has recently purchased so that whole classes of students can be connected to each other and to the wider world.
- We have undertaken to strengthen our approaches to teaching digital literacy skills so that students are well positioned to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
This coming spring the transition to the NextGen tests will continue. Consistent with DESE’s expectations, Dracut students in grades 4,5,7, and 8 will all be taking the NextGen test in its computer-based format, while students in grades 3 and 6 will be taking the paper-based NextGen test. It is also expected that the MCAS Science test will be given in its NextGen format. Students at Dracut High will continue to participate in the legacy version of MCAS until the state makes the transition (expected for 2019).
I encourage all parents to take advantage of this transition period by engaging in conversations about your child’s performance with his/her teachers, regardless of their MCAS scores. Open lines of communications between school and home are an invaluable support for students. If you have any questions about the testing at your child’s school, please feel free to speak with your principal. If you have any questions about the district’s efforts or about MCAS in general, please feel free to call the central administration. I can be reached at 957-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org. David Hill, our Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment can be reached at 957-2617 or email@example.com.