"MCAS 2.0" - What We All Need to Know (December 2015/January 2016)

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By Shirley Jones-Luke

Technology's ever-morphing transformation creates new demands for more precise skills. CDs have given way to downloads.  DVDs have gone digital.  The same has happened with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is preparing to roll out what he calls "MCAS 2.0." As he is Chair of the Governing Board for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), the assumption is the new test will look much like the Common Core-based assessment. In any case, certain skills will be vital for success, both on the test and then in any college or career thereafter.
In the time of MCAS 1.0, teachers could rely on an abundance of strategies to help students perform well on the test. Students could rule out two answers, examine context clues and identify author's purpose. In math, they could look at graphics and determine differences. Teachers could assign foundational text readings in both fiction and nonfiction that students could use as references. Teachers could also assign practice word problems and review basic multiplication and division tables.
The apparent goal of the new test is to encourage students to make deeper connections. Surface inspection will not work and each response will determine later choices. Like an algebraic problem, what you do on one side impacts the other side.
Another key difference regards the way in which the test is delivered. While MCAS was a paper and pencil test, MCAS 2.0 will be delivered and scored electronically. Therefore, in addition finding deeper meaning with texts and equations, synthesize information, and develop conclusions that they can explain in writing, students will also need to develop appropriate technological skills. As many students do not have technology at home, these skills must be taught before students tackle the new test so that all students can achieve success in the ever-evolving testing environment.

Keyboarding

While students do not need to be touch typists or even use all fingers, they will be required to have enough of an understanding of where all the keys are. In order to better prepare, teachers should ask students to type for 15 minutes a week in class and 45 minutes a week outside of the classroom.

Basic Computer Skills

Being comfortable with technology takes time and practice. In order to succeed in testing and in life, technology needs to be part of a student’s educational landscape.
Skills such as drag-and-drop, keyboarding with speed and accuracy, and playing videos are not easy for students if they have not had formal instruction. It is imperative, therefore, that teachers make sure students are technologically proficient. This means students should have an understanding of what defines a digital device, how it operates, what type of programs are used on various types (for example, applications are for iPads and software is for laptops), and the best way to scaffold them for learning.
Students also need to be savvy consumers of the Internet. Students should understand how to maneuver through a website without distraction and should have some sense of which websites are useful and which potentially harmful.
As with any new language, it is important to use technological vocabulary appropriately. If students do not understand what you are saying, help them decode with context or an online dictionary. Develop a vocabulary list that is authentic and specific to your needs.

Stamina

Common Core State Standards insist that a fourth grader type one page uninterrupted and that the skill increase from there. Most assessments expect students to have that sort of stamina. Make sure your students have practiced working at computers for extended periods. Have students take some online assessments prior to any summative one. These can be created by using Google Forms or those that follow BrainPop videos.

Problem Solving

Students should be able to handle problems such as an apparent failure of their headphones, a broken key or a frozen screen. Have students take responsibility for solving their own problems, with the teacher acting as a resource.

MCAS 2.0 is ostensibly intended to test knowledge, but if students cannot access the test, they cannot succeed. It is therefore imperative that teachers work technology into their lessons at every possible opportunity.

Shirley Jones-Luke is an educator in the Boston Public Schools.