MCAS to undergo drastic online revamping



Sophomore Evan Suk partakes in a practice test to gauge the effectiveness of online testing. The online form of the MCAS could replace the old form on paper.

Natalie Jew, Regulars Editor

This spring, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System—the standardized testing of public school students—will continue the shift from the traditional paper and pencil to online.

For now, this affects only students from grades three to eight, but as the state transitions to technology-based education, this type of testing will spread to the high school.

The new plan, called The Next-Generation MCAS, according the the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), is to phase in the electronic test so that in 2019 all MCAS testing statewide will be computer-based.

The Next-Generation MCAS centers around critical thinking, application of knowledge and making connections, according the most recent presentation from the DESE. It takes parts of both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the paper and pencil or Legacy MCAS, for a new test that follows more closely the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework. This computer-based testing, according to Media Relations Coordinator of the DESE Jacqueline Reis, also allows the MCAS to include the use of electronic instruments.

“The computer-based testing offers different features, such as the ability to include a video, a calculator, an on-screen highlighter, and audio for students who would otherwise need someone to read questions to them,” Reis said. “In terms of how this will affect students, it’s hard to generalize. Some prefer it. Right now, some grades three to eight students are taking the test on a computer, and others are taking it on paper. Because of that, we are adjusting the scores to minimize differences that may be caused by technology. We expect those differences to diminish over time, and we expect that eventually, we will not need to adjust the scores.”

The Class of 2021 will be the first to take the Next-Generation English Language Arts and Mathematics MCAS at the high school, which is a graduation requirement for all Brookline Public School students. This year, however, the Legacy MCAS will still be administered, in Brookline, to high school students and to elementary and middle school students with extenuating circumstances.

The Next-Generation English Language Arts and Mathematics MCAS was introduced to elementary and middle schools last spring, and the new test is scored into four categories – Not Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations, Meeting Expectations and Exceeding Expectations.

There are higher standards for Meeting Expectations in the Next-Generation than the Legacy MCAS, and according to the DESE these scores are not comparable to the previous test. In Oct. 2017, Massachusetts education officials released the first test scores of the new Next-Generation MCAS, setting the baseline for future testing. Data showed that many students who had passed the MCAS in previous years scored below expectations in the new test.

There is a wide range of differences between the two MCAS versions, Reis said. The Next-Generation MCAS assesses a student’s college preparedness, whereas the Legacy MCAS did not.

“The Next-generation MCAS is designed to give students and their families a better signal of whether that student is ready for college or a career after high school,” Reis said. “With the old MCAS, too many students were passing it and still needing remedial classes in college.”

In a letter sent out to the Massachusetts Class of 2021 parents and guardians, Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said that the lower scores of the Next-Generation MCAS did not indicate a student had learned less but instead showed the different standards to which the test was graded.

Though the official MCAS test will be taken with paper and pencil this year, on May 11, a state-mandated practice Next-Generation English Language Arts MCAS was held for the Class of 2020. The field test was given to 25 percent of sophomores who were randomly selected to participate, according to Assistant Headmaster Hal Mason.

“It’ll obviously be a very different test experience. Instead of having paper and books, you’ll get a chromebook,” Mason said.

A student begins the practice Next-Generation MCAS in Schluntz Gymnasium on May 10. Each student was provided with a Chromebook to take the online test.


Much of the preparation for the computer-based MCAS is on the side of Information Technology people according to Mason.

“The IT and the tech people who have been here have been working with , so they know a lot of the issues they had this year and last year when they started this, so we feel we’ll be ready for the test and more importantly for next year,” Mason said.  There’s a lot of preparation that goes on on the IT side to make sure that the network handle everything, all the computers are ready to go, the software has been loaded and there are new added wifi access points.”

While the Next-Generation test will be taken on the computer, according to Reis, it is not anticipated to face any technological issues.

“We have not had any widespread technological difficulties to date or any hacking that we’re aware of. Computer-based does not necessarily mean online.”

Once on the test software, the computer will not allow a student to access other parts of the device according to Mason.

“When you open up the test there’s a way of setting up the computer so you’re in the test environment, which only allows you to be running the test software,” Mason said. “Once that software is running, you can’t quit it, you can’t disable it, you can’t control tab to switch to a different window—you have to stay in that environment. It won’t let you open up chrome or anything like that.”

While many schools have planned for the Next-Generation MCAS in the coming years by purchasing computers, Mason said that Brookline High School already had the number of chromebooks needed. This brings up the issue that schools more versed in technology may have higher scores, but according to the DESE a student can use resources available online to practice beforehand.

On Nov. 2015, former Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said in a letter to Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the Next-Generation MCAS follows the technologically developing society.

“The computer-based testing experience is qualitatively different from a paper-and-pencil test. The computer-based environment is a more engaging experience, preferred by students,” Chester said. “The setting mirrors the digital world that is ubiquitous in students’ current and future lives.”