MCAS Testing At Cushing School
The Spring 2011 administration of the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) will be here before you know it! This year, Cushing Students in Grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 will be taking portions of the state assessment test. Our entire school views MCAS Testing as an important part of our school year and although testing takes place in Grades 3-6, teachers in Kindergarten through Grade 6 understand that success on the MCAS is dependent upon the daily learning that takes place at all grade levels.
Why All This Testing?
MCAS was implemented in response to the Education Reform Law of 1993. You have probably seen many articles and news reports on this topic over the years. Using the Curriculum Frameworks defined by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MCAS testing focuses on assessing the essential bodies of knowledge as described in the various subject matter frameworks. Functioning like the frame of a house, the Curriculum Frameworks identify what should be taught in every school system in the state. In the same way that homeowners may choose to cover their frame with shingles, clapboard, brick, etc., school systems may decide what is the best way to teach the material and concepts defined by the state. They may choose hands on activity kits, textbooks, literature or basal series, etc. but the state is clear about what must be covered at the various grade levels. If you would like to review a copy of the State Curriculum Frameworks, you can visit the Massachusetts Department of Education Web Site (www.doe.mass.edu) for detailed information. The frameworks are so important that school districts are held accountable for them via the MCAS Testing Program.
2011 MCAS Test Schedule
MCAS Testing takes place in the spring of each academic year. At Cushing School, Grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 will be participating in the tests. Systemwide, students in Grades 7, 8, 9, and 10 will also be taking a portion of the MCAS Test. As all students (including students with disabilities and with limited proficiency in English) are required to participate in the testing sequence, it is important that students be in attendance during the scheduled days of testing. Only students with documented medical absences are excused from the testing. If a student is absent, a failing score of 200 is recorded. This not only affects the student’s individual record but it also influences the district results. The following testing dates are very important for Cushing School Students:
- Grade 3 (Reading) March 21 & March 25, 2011 The MCAS Reading Test will be administered to all Grade 3 students on the above dates. Each day, the students will complete one session of testing (for a total of two sessions).
- Grade 4 (Composition Test) March 22, 2011 The MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) Composition will be administered to all Grade 4 Students on this date. The make-up date for this test is March 31, 2011. It is important to note that a different writing prompt will be used for the make-up session.
- Grades 4, 5, 6 (English Language and Literature) March 21 – March 31, 2011
Students in Grades 4, 5, and 6 will complete the tests in English Language and Literature. Each grade level will complete two testing sessions. A more specific schedule for these grade levels will be forthcoming in the near future
- Grades 3, 4, 5, 6 (Mathematics) May 10 – May 18, 2011.
- Students in Grades 4, 5, and 6 will complete the tests in Mathematics (with trials of this test in Grades 3 and 5) . Each grade level will complete 2-3 testing sessions. A more specific schedule for these grade levels will be forthcoming in the near future.
- Grade 5 (Science and Technology/Engineering) May 17 & May 18, 2011.
- Students in Grade 5 will complete the test in Science and Technology/Engineering (Two sessions). A more specific schedule for this grade level will be forthcoming in the near future.
What Are the Tests Like?
The MCAS Testing that will be taking place at Cushing School is designed to measure achievement in Reading, English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering. The tests in each subject area include a variety of testing options. There are the typical multiple-choice questions that are often associated with academic testing. There is also a short answer format that asks our students to perform such tasks as illustrating and labeling, writing an equation, or completing a problem. Short answer items are prevalent on the mathematics exam. There are also open response questions that require writing in all areas of the curriculum. These open-ended questions require at least a paragraph of writing. The open-ended response section is scored using a scale or rubric of 4 - 1, 4 being the highest and 1 being the lowest.
In Grade 4 another form of testing is the long composition. This test takes two sessions on the same testing day. The long composition consists of a writing prompt which requires our students to write a long essay, edit and refine the draft, and copy over the final version of the work for scoring. This is where the format we follow in Writers Workshop and elements from the John Collins Writing Program come into play. The long composition receives two scores, one for the organization and content of ideas (scoring between 6 - 1, 6 being the highest and 1 being the lowest) and another score for the mechanics of writing such as punctuation and spelling (scored on a scale of 4-1, 4 being the highest). In the past, questions such as “Describe the best day you have had and why.” and “What is your favorite season of the year and why.” have been posed to our fourth graders. The writing is scored using a rubric (content and mechanics) and the students can earn a total of 20 points toward their overall English Language Arts score on the MCAS.
In the Reading and English Language Arts Tests (Grades 3 - 6), each reading passage (high interest fiction, poetry, and nonfiction) is followed by multiple choice and open ended questions based upon such reading strategies as finding the main idea, author’s purpose, compare and contrast, vocabulary, details, etc. The writing passages require students to explain their thoughts in a cohesive manner that is scored using a rubric as defined above.
Our fifth graders will be completing MCAS Tests in Science and Technology /Engineering. Again, multiple choice questions and open-ended response items will be included in this testing. Our fifth graders are seasoned MCAS participants so the teachers and I are hopeful their anxiety levels will not rise!
Our Grade 3 - 6 will be completing MCAS Tests in Mathematics. Students are asked to complete multiple choice questions, and short answer questions. Our students are asked for simple calculation responses as well as problem solving situations that use mathematics in everyday situations.
It is recommended that all testing sessions be scheduled to last forty-five minutes to an hour. However, there is in reality no time limit to the test. The MCAS is an untimed test. In the past, we have found that our students work well past the suggested testing time. We applaud our students’ concentration and effort.
How Do We Prepare Our Students for the MCAS?
Rest assured that the Scituate Public Schools’ curriculum is aligned and constantly under revision to ensure alignment with the State Frameworks (upon which the MCAS is based). Additionally, our teachers have been working on a daily basis to prepare our students for this important test. As MCAS time draws near, the teachers will work as grade level teams to talk to the students about the testing formats and provide reminders about test taking strategies which, we hope, will help us relieve the fear of the unknown which often pops up in our students as testing approaches.
The MCAS tests require an impressive amount of writing in all areas of the curriculum. Consequently, writing across the curriculum is stressed in all grades throughout the school year. In daily lessons, students are taught how to write a cohesive paragraph with a beginning, middle and end. Students know how to write a paragraph using a topic sentence, provide two to four sentences with more detail to support their answer, and conclude their paragraph. Students have frequently been assigned writing as class work and as part of homework assignments to develop ease and facility with written responses.
Sustained reading is also key to success in MCAS testing. On the MCAS, students are expected to read two to three pages of text before questions are asked. This requires our teachers to focus on developing reading stamina in our students. W.E.B. Reading fosters this development. If your child is reading chapter books at home and is able to read a chapter at a time, that’s wonderful, just what we are hoping for and encouraging in school. Some of our students require structure and support to develop this stamina in reading, thus W.E.B. (Wonderfully Exciting Books). Some teachers are also having students read articles from children’s periodicals such as Highlights, Ranger Rick, Sports Illustrated for Kids, etc., since these articles approximate the length of the reading items. Reading longer passages with ease is a primary focus in our classrooms on a daily basis.
The mathematics portion of the MCAS emphasizes problem solving. Very few items ask students to merely add or divide. Rather, students are given a situation and asked to solve it. In order to prepare for this test, daily math classes are asking students to work through many word problems and problem solving strategies. Our math series, Everyday Math and MacDougal Littell, provide students with just this type of problem. You will also see this type of problem reflected in homework assignments in addition to the typical calculation style homework.
There is also an emotional or attitudinal preparation going on in our classrooms. We are focusing on two important concepts: doing the best you can do and remembering that MCAS testing is reality but it is only one measure of achievement in school. These tests do become part of your child’s academic record and our town scores will be published in the local papers and on the Internet. We also work hard to stress daily efforts in the classroom and not to use the MCAS as a means of panic or worry. It is a delicate balance between emphasizing the importance of the test while not creating undue apprehension or anxiety.
As parents, you can also help us prepare students for the MCAS. Encourage your children’s writing. Stop to read what they are writing and reward their efforts. You can also help by supervising the daily portion of your child’s homework that requires reading for ten to twenty minutes. Children are likely to skip this homework assignment especially if there is no written product or summary that needs to be handed in. Remember there are ten ways to get better at reading. Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read!
Home and school need to work together to develop the test taking skills that are required on the MCAS. While we develop writing in all areas of the curriculum and encourage students to read longer passages, we develop skills. We do not teach to the test. Actually, that would be difficult, as in past years there have been as many as thirteen (13) different versions of the test with questions that are always changing on a yearly basis!
How are the MCAS Tests Scored?
The MCAS produce numerical results that range from 200 to 280 points in each of the subject areas tested for Grades 4-6. The score assigns each student to one of the following categories:
- Advanced 260 – 280
- Proficient 240 - 259
- Needs Improvement 220 - 239
- Warning 200 – 219
The scoring differs a bit in Grade 3 with only three categories:
- Above Proficient
- Needs Improvement
MCAS Results are used to improve teaching and learning in our schools. The results can be used as one means of monitoring student progress. They can also be used to help schools identify strengths and weaknesses in curriculum and instruction.
If you have any questions or concerns about the MCAS Test schedule for Spring 2011, please feel free to call Mrs. Judith Derr, School Psychologist, or myself, Ms. Ohrenberger. We will continue to do all within our power to make the MCAS testing period as comfortable for our students as possible.