BOSTON (CBS) — The state will move forward with Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing this spring, but there will be changes to the duration and format to account for the coronavirus pandemic, Commissioner of Education Jeffrey C. Riley announced in a letter to Superintendents Tuesday.

The MCAS was canceled last year due to COVID-19.

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“The sudden shift to remote learning last spring, and the continuation of hybrid/remote learning this school year has likely led to significant learning loss for students around the country. The extent of the learning loss in the Commonwealth is not yet known. The Department continues to believe the MCAS test is a crucial diagnostic tool to promote student success and educational equity,” said Riley’s letter.

“The MCAS tests will give Massachusetts educators and families critical insight into academic losses that need to be addressed this spring and summer, and data on which students and districts have been most impacted by the disruptions in schooling.”

Changes include:

  • The test time will be reduced by half for grades three to eight. Students will only take a portion of the test in each subject. Through this session sampling approach, the “modified MCAS administration will preserve the validity and reliability of the test at the school, district, and state levels. When combined with other data points, this approach will provide meaningful diagnostic data at the individual student level.”
  • The window for ACCESS testing, which looks at English language proficiency, has been extended until May 20. The window typically ends in February.
  • Underperforming schools and districts will not be named to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
  • The make-up MCAS administration window for 12th graders, scheduled to open on January 14, will be postponed. Members of the Class of 2021 who have not met the competency level in English, language arts, and mathematics, can take an approved course instead. Seniors can still take the MCAS can later this year and more opportunities for academic support will come in the spring and summer.
  • The biology MCAS for ninth-graders can be offered in June and/or February.

High school students will likely take the test in person and younger students will take it remotely.

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Secretary of Education Jim Peyser said the move is “to help give parents and educators the information they need to understand how their students are doing and especially in this unusual school year to address potential learning loss and growing achievement gap.”

Massachusetts Parents United praised the announcement.

“I think it’s really important and frankly it’s been something that our group has been advocating for since July of 2020,” said advocacy group founder Keri Rodrigues. “You wouldn’t take your sick child to a doctor who didn’t use a thermometer to determine how sick your kid is. We can’t just rely on best guesses when it comes to how our kids are going to be able to recover academically.”

But the Massachusetts Teachers Union opposed MCAS testing this spring, calling it disruptive and misguided in a year full of remote learning.

Worcester Teacher Joesph Fails criticized the decision.

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“Students are worried about COVID, their parents are worried about COVID, so I don’t understand why they need a test like the MCAS which brings a whole lot of stress to students,” he said.

CBSBoston.com Staff