Results of "next generation" standardized test in Mass. released

BOSTON -- Just half of Massachusetts students in grades three through eight met or exceeded expectations on the new "next generation MCAS test" in math and English - the first time the test has been administered.

Massachusetts education officials publicly released the spring 2017 test results on Wednesday.

Educators were quick to caution against making direct comparisons between a student's performance on the new test and the original, nearly 20-year-old, MCAS.

Scoring for the new test falls into four categories: Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations and Not Meeting Expectations.

As a result, some students who scored "proficient" on last year's MCAS test may find they only scored "partially meeting expectations" on the new, tougher exam.

"We're establishing a new baseline so comparisons with the past are difficult," said state Education Secretary James Peyser. "They really are apples and oranges."

The new hybrid exam mixes elements of the familiar Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test with another test aligned with federal Common Core state standards known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers - or PARCC - test, which was developed by a national consortium that includes Massachusetts.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted in 2015 instead to combine the two exams to create a "next-generation, computer-based, and Massachusetts-specific test."

Not only was the next generation MCAS test intended to be more difficult, but many students were taking the test for the first time on a computer.

The state hopes to have all assessments delivered on computers by the spring of 2019, CBS Boston reported.  

Peyser said the decision to make the tests tougher was deliberate. He said too many students were graduating from high school and had to seek out remedial help to finish giving them the skills needed to succeed in college or other post-secondary education opportunities.

Officials said the new test is designed to focus on the ability of students to think critically, apply their knowledge, and to make connections between reading and writing.

While passing the MCAS is a high school graduation requirement in Massachusetts, Peyser said the test results released Wednesday will have no effect on graduation.

The next-generation tests will be introduced at the high school level in spring 2019.

Jeff Wulfson, acting commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said every question on the new test was reviewed by panel of experts.

The group Citizens for Public Schools - which has called for less testing in schools - said they feared that the results released Wednesday will increase pressure "to focus narrowly on increasing test scores, which will further narrow our curriculum and harm our student."

They said the fact that about half of those students who took the test scored below the new "meeting expectations" level will only add to calls for more standardized testing in schools.

Education officials say they expect scores on the new test will increase as students come to understand what's expected of them to do well on the exam.

Parents should expect to receive their child's scores from their school district in late October or early November.