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MCAS tests used to find gaps in student learning

By Max

MCAS are expected to return this school year, but the focus will be on determining how well students have learned in an era of remote classes.

Assistant Superintendent Michelle McKeon said that the latest communication with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) indicates that testing will be done throughout the U.S., and there won’t be waivers or cancellations.

They (DESE) want to identify where student gaps exist,” said McKeon at the Jan. 11 School Committee meeting. “There’s going to be significantly less time spent on testing. Information gathered will be for diagnostic purposes for students in grades 3-12.”

In a letter sent on Jan. 5, Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley wrote that a national study estimates the shift to remote learning last spring set back academic progress by months. The study predicts learning losses will escalate as students remain in remote/hybrid models this academic year.

The magnitude of this potential impact demands that we accurately and fairly assess the level of student learning this school year,” wrote Riley.

A number of changes will be seen in this year’s MCAS testing. Normally, a passing grade for the MCAS is required for seniors to graduate. However, the recommended modification would allow them to receive a competency determination by passing an approved course and demonstrating competency in that subject in lieu of a qualifying MCAS score. Seniors who still want to take the tests may do so later this school year. Members of the Class of 2021 will have opportunities to receive additional academic support this spring and summer.

In addition, there will be a reduced testing time for students in grades 3-8 through a session sampling approach, in which students will take only a portion of the MCAS assessment in each subject.

This modified MCAS administration will preserve the validity and reliability of the test at the school, district, and state levels,” wrote Riley. “When combined with other data points, this approach will provide meaningful diagnostic data at the individual student level.”

ACCESS testing for English language proficiency is used to strengthen education programs for English learners. DESE is extending the testing window for ACCESS, which normally concludes in February, until May 20.

Test results are used to determine a school’s quality of education, and can sometimes result in the state getting involved if too many students fail the MCAS. McKeon said that won’t be the case this year.

The plan as of now is for North Attleborough students to take these tests in-person. For those who have elected to be fully remote, McKeon said they could potentially take the test on Wednesday, when all students learn remotely.

There’s still more to come,” said McKeon. “Some shifts may be coming.”

Committee member John Costello said that he wasn’t a fan of the MCAS even before the pandemic, but hopes that the changes being seen become permanent.

I hope that something positive comes out of this,” he said.

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