MA MCAS and Assessment Subcommittee Sees Urgent Need for MCAS Overhaul

The Readiness Project subcommittee charged with reviewing MCAS and assessment expressed an urgent need for substantive change to the current system. To underscore this sense of urgency, the subcommittee’s consensus report echoes Brown v. Board of Education, saying, “In order to move toward important new educational goals, MCAS – as the ‘system’ it was originally intended to be – must evolve significantly and that evolution must begin with deliberate speed.”


In its report, the group wrote that the creation of the MCAS tests was an understandable starting point in the development of a comprehensive assessment system. However, it is time to proceed and fulfill the goal of a truly balanced and comprehensive assessment system that will more effectively promote 21st century skills and knowledge.

Among the findings were these:
• The sole reliance on the on-demand MCAS tests has had the unintended outcome of narrowing curriculum, modifying instructional approaches without consideration of what is developmentally appropriate, and has resulted in notable decreases in student engagement. There is also concern about the impact on younger learners.
• Negative consequences are exacerbated when high-stakes such as school accountability or student graduation are solely based on the results of those tests. This is particularly true in stressed poorer districts and schools, the schools, districts, and students that education reform was designed to help.
• While overall exam scores are going up, the achievement gaps remain and drop out rates are increasing particularly among vulnerable populations.


  • The state should begin moving to a system balancing state on-demand exams and locally delivered performance assessments designed to measure a common set of standards.
  • Rather than simply add more and different assessments to what we already have, the time expended on state mandated standardized tests should be reduced and we should move to a broader array of performance assessments that are part of the curriculum.
  • Graduation would not be denied based on the failure of the on-demand test component but would depend on successful performance in a rigorous and varied comprehensive assessment system that is rooted in high expectations.

Specifically, the subcommittee report recommends that the state:

  1. Enhance state curriculum frameworks to include 21st Century Skills and the demands of a new era and create a comprehensive assessment system that assesses those skills.
  2. Increase the quality and relevance of the assessment system by including locally embedded authentic performance-based assessments.
  3. Analyze exam results in the framework of a growth model.
  4. Work with other New England states grappling with similar issues to learn together and drive down related costs.

See the press release here.