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The Long and Short of MCAS Review

The Long and Short of MCAS Review, 11 math standards make the difference

by Joan Reissman

11 math standards make the difference

What’s the best way to prepare for MCAS? Practice and review, of course.

Test preparation is not a substitute for long-term cumulative learning; but review and practice are tried and true methods to strengthen skills and build knowledge, regardless of test pressures. Practice exercises constructed in the format of the actual assessment can reinforce skills as effectively as any other form of review—maybe more effectively.

The MCAS test is a subset of the state curriculum standards. All MCAS questions are drawn directly from those standards and are identified by standard. There is no conflict between “teaching to the test” and teaching the standards  assessed by the test. The 10th grade math MCAS begins May 21, four weeks after April vacation. That’s 20 class days.  Plenty of  time to make a difference.

With focus and organization, students can review the necessary material. JFYNetWorks offers  focused online curriculum with teacher support to help students refresh the 9th and 10th grade skills that are covered on the 10th grade MCAS. JFY’s  curriculum provides flexible options for MCAS preparation that can be seamlessly integrated into daily classes. We help teachers  focus on the topics that are most likely to be tested.  There are 30 standards  (out of 101) that have been tested 3 or 4 years on MCAS 2.0–  11 have been tested 4 years and 19  have appeared 3 years.  Reviewing the 11 4-year standards will give students a solid foundation. Adding some or all of the 19 3-year standards will be even better. Every correct answer raises the student’s—and the school’s– MCAS score. 

JFY can customize MCAS curriculum packages based on  data analysis of a school’s needs and the amount of time available for review. The basic package is the 11 standards that have been tested all four years. The augmented package includes the 19 that have been tested three years. Both curricula can be structured and tailored to a school’s or teacher’s needs.   

We provide the curriculum and train teachers to use it, at no cost. Few schools made gains in 2023, nor did the state overall. Scores still lag pre-pandemic 2019.  Focused preparation can make the difference between a flat line and a rising one.

JFY’s MCAS curriculum is based on analysis  of the  four years of  MCAS 2.0 (2019, 2021, 2022, 2023). These  four years of released tests provide the foundation to analyze patterns.  In 2019,  the first Next Generation 2.0 10th grade test transitioned to the revised mathematics standards that were adopted in 2017. This transition made a significant change in the distribution of domains. MCAS 2.0 has a much higher proportion of algebra and geometry than the old legacy test. This new distribution established in 2019 has remained  consistent over the 4 years. 

Domain Distribution

This table shows the domain distribution over the four years on the 10th grade math Next Generation MCAS .

Domain Distribution, Math Standards

The table shows that the domain distribution over the  four years is nearly identical.  That doesn’t mean all the questions cover exactly the same standards (see below), but the domain distribution is  consistent. We can be fairly confident that the nearly 80% emphasis on Algebra and Geometry will continue.   This distribution reflects the 2017 standards revision.  On the old Legacy MCAS, Statistics and Number & Quantity were a much higher percentage of the test. Note that  there were 42 questions each  year.

Tested Standards

The number of standards tested in each domain has also remained  consistent.  The table below shows the number of standards tested in each domain every year, and the repeated standards.

Both the number of standards tested and the percentage each year are very similar. The number of standards tested in each domain is consistent, but different standards were tested within the domains. Each year there have been 42 questions.  Each question is based on an identified standard, but almost every question derives from a different standard within the domain (40-42 standards). In the 168 questions over the four years, 22 standards have appeared only one time; 19 standards have been repeated twice; 19 standards have been repeated three times; and only 11 standards have been on the exam all four years. Out of the total 168  questions, 72 standards have been tested at least once over the four years. That’s 71% of the  total  101 standards in the high school curriculum frameworks. That’s part of the good news.

But the really good news is that just 11 standards were tested all four years. MCAS selection isn’t set in stone, so it’s best to cover more of the 30  frequently tested standards.  However, reviewing the core 11 standards will give students a solid foundation for a likely nucleus of test content.  And because these are all grade-level standards, students will need them  to be prepared for 11th grade.  (Reminder: MCAS is a subset of grade-level standards.)

It’s important to remember that the distribution of domain strands has been consistent.  The main difference is the specific  standards tested within those domains. For example, 2022 and 2023  covered almost the same number of geometry standards, but nine of the specific  standards were not the same. The  important thing to remember is that MCAS has  tested almost the same number of algebra and geometry  standards  all four years.

JFY can help teachers focus on delivering the essential components within the standards. If students finish the 11 core standards, they can go on to the 19  standards that appeared 3 years. The more they cover, the better prepared they will be for MCAS and for 11th grade.  

Review emphasis should consider the course students are currently taking. For example, students in a traditional geometry course will need more review of algebra topics. Students in integrated math will need  more review of the standards in Integrated Math 1.

Testing Techniques

Our focus is on mastering  content, but it doesn’t hurt to review some testing techniques. One of the most important things a teacher can do is to help students build confidence answering constructed response questions. Students should be encouraged not to give up and leave this part blank. Even if they can’t answer everything, they will get some points for answering part of the question. Go to and have students look at  sample constructed response questions.  Show them how answering just part of the question will still yield points.

It’s  also helpful to share some time-tested strategies for answering multiple choice questions. One strategy is the venerable process of elimination.  This is a student’s last-ditch effort when she has no idea what the answer is.  If there are 4 possible answers, she always has a twenty-five percent chance of guessing right.  Another  technique is working backwards.  Take the given choices and see if any of them gives the correct answer to the problem. This  might work well when the problem has variables, and the answer choices are numbers. One final technique is called plugging in. If you have variables in the problem and the answer choices, try using some simple numbers (not 0 and 1 ) and see if you can answer the question.

And don’t forget to remind students about the reference sheet that is available while taking the test.  It has valuable and usable information. These techniques are not a substitute for math learning, but they can be helpful to nervous testers.

Many educators and researchers think we still have a long way to go in recovering from pandemic learning loss. But I think  students are in a better position this year.  2023-24  has been the most  normal school year since 2019. That doesn’t mean  students don’t need to review. Bridging past years’ skills through acceleration and review will get them  closer to where they need to be. Every standard they  master will give them a better foundation for  MCAS and  future classes. Every right answer yields points. And every point moves the performance level up.

That’s the short and the long of it.

Joan Reissman, the MCAS Maven, is a JFYNetWorks blended learning specialist.

Other posts authored by Joan can be found here.

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