Massachusetts Families: MCAS Grading Changes
Massachusetts is well known for the high academic standards our public schools achieve each year in a variety of factors: college acceptance, PSAT and SAT results, advanced placement grades, and state testing scores. Apparently, those high standards are not high enough, according to some leaders in Boston. On Monday, August 15, 2022, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a proposal to increase the threshold that high school sophomores must achieve to pass the MCAS test, Massachusetts’ annual state test. Public school students in Massachusetts must pass the MCAS test in sophomore year in order to graduate from high school on time.
The proposal was controversial from the moment state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley first announced it. During a public comment period beginning in April of 2022, the majority of those responding were against the proposal. Serious concerns were raised that increasing the threshold for passing the MCAS would negatively affect high-needs students, increase pressure on teachers to “teach to the test”, and incentivize schools to prioritize test prep schemes over content-based instructions.
The proposal that was passed by the board did not include any suggestions or input generated by the public during the public content period and seems to have passed as first crafted by Commissioner Riley. This was especially frustrating for students, parents, and educators who spoke out in an effort to alert the Board about their concerns regarding the as yet undetermined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 lockdown, and the switch to remote and hybrid learning in 2021.
MCAS Passing Threshold
Initially, the threshold for passing the English side of the MCAS will increase to match the math scaled score of 486 for this year’s 9th graders (the class of 2026), meaning that they will be the first class to see a steeper hill to climb beginning next year. By the school year ending in 2031, passing thresholds for both English and math will increase to a scaled score or 500.
The trap that public schools must avoid is abandoning their successful instruction models in core classes to focus more heavily on MCAS prep in freshman and sophomore years. Instead, a more productive plan might be to maintain their current academic programs, but add a dedicated MCAS prep elective that is opt-out in sophomore year. A dedicated MCAS prep course that meets twice per week, organized by skill and need, can not only focus student attention on topics that require attention, but can build expertise in study skills, testing skills, and critical thinking, all of which are essential on the MCAS.
Livius Prep MCAS Program
Livius has rolled out a new MCAS program specifically designed to target student areas of need in small to medium groups at partner schools. The program is built on the foundation of the frameworks and standards published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and is designed to help students review high priority academic topics while building the test taking tools necessary to succeed on a computer-based test such as the MCAS.
While the increased graduation requirements on the MCAS may feel like another obstacle for teachers and administrators, they also present an opportunity to partner with a community of educators dedicated to providing the tools and techniques students need to overcome the obstacles presented by such an exam.