As we reflect on the process of administering MCAS this spring, we are increasingly aware of how challenging it is for our students. Thinking through the factors that make MCAS so difficult remind us once again that using MCAS scores to show progress is not effective, especially in the EMS. Here are our top 5 reasons that MCAS is extra hard for our EMS kids:
- It is a grade level test. Most of our students are not yet at an independent grade level for Math or Reading Comprehension; yet what they are asked to do is independently compute, comprehend, answer, write, and perform at grade level.
- Accommodations are not modifications. A lot of thoughtful time is spent at IEP meetings discussing MCAS accommodations that will help students better access components of MCAS. For example, a Read Aloud accommodation may bypass decoding difficulties, but students who are not comprehending on grade level are still going to struggle. Typing may be easier for a student than physically writing, but a student may still struggle to understand the question being asked because they didn’t understand the grade level passage.
- They can’t be reminded of their strategies. Some of the strategies that teachers put into place every day in the classroom can’t be used on MCAS. For example, teachers can’t tell students go back to the text, add more information, look at this key word, think before answering during the MCAS testing session.
- Students rush. MCAS is long and not fun, and students want to be done. Without a teacher guiding them (i.e., telling them to look back, re-reading multiple times, helping them understand key points), many students race through so they can be done. One student was observed to say, “I know that MCAS doesn’t really count until 10th grade. So I’m not really going to try. I just want to be finished.” Some students mention that their parents have given them that message as a way to decrease anxiety surrounding the test. We say, “MCAS is a do your best test,” and explain that MCAS at any level is a great way to get practice for the 10th grade test. However, while we consistently remind students to do their best, we cannot guarantee that they will.
- Burnout happens. In addition to the length of the test making students speed up to finish, students get burnt out quickly. Even students who can fully comprehend and compute at the beginning tend to fade as the test continues. Students have been observed to fully plan their first open response (use a Thinking Map, make an outline, edit their draft) and yet by the last open response they simply write a few words because of fatigue.
All this is being shared in a way to help shed a light on the challenges that our students face with MCAS. MCAS scores should not color your understanding of the real progress that students are making every day at school. For now, we all get a break until next year.