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Preparing for MCAS 2.0 Reading Comprehension

New twists and how not to get tangled up

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

There has been a lot of discussion about the new MCAS 2.0 test. Parents and teachers are wondering how they can help students build the skills they need to succeed. The biggest difference is that the test will no longer be on paper. It’s online. Although students use technology every day, that doesn’t mean they will automatically know how to navigate the test. The first step in preparation is to make sure that students understand how to navigate through the test and answer all questions.

For help with test navigation, students should go to the student tutorial on the DESE website and go to the TEST NAV 8 tutorial. That will demonstrate how to navigate through the test and use all the available tools. Do this tutorial as a group exercise so that students don’t just click through. Every student will have a user name and password assigned by the test administrator for the real test, but they can go in as a guest in the practice section. Students will see the passages first and then use the blue arrows in the upper left-hand corner to answer questions. Students can skip a question by bookmarking it and then return to it before submitting their answers. They can also use the review button at any time to answer a particular question. When the student is finished, he/she can submit the section. You cannot change your answers after clicking submit section.

There are tools for student use in specific questions. The most useful tool for students taking the ELA might be the notepad. Students will be comparing long passages, so get them into the habit of jotting down notes on passages. Another handy tool is the answer eliminator. As students read through choices, they can use this tool to strike through answer choices that seem wrong. They can also select text and highlight it as they read through. Additional tools help students read the passages. They can enlarge the text or focus on reading line by line. If requested by the teacher, a text-to-speech option will also be available during the test for designated students. Look for words with dotted lines underneath. If you select that word, a definition will appear.

Finally, the essay has a word limit. The student will not be able to go beyond the allotted number of words. Teachers should do this tutorial with students early in the year and give them a practice test below grade level because at this point there is only one practice test found here. Review the basics of navigation after winter break and then have the students take the practice test at grade level.

MCAS 2.0 Reading Comprehension

Finding evidence, drawing conclusions and making inferences are still essential skills. Keep in mind that tests have 40 questions, but the sample test has only 22 questions. There may be some differences in the test next spring. The main difference is text comparison.

In the past two years there has been only one set of questions comparing two passages. In 2017 and 2018 there were 9 or 10 questions, about 25% of the test, asking students to draw answers from two texts. But in the sample MCAS 2.0 test, 18 questions ask students comparative questions. That’s a jump from 25% to 82%. With the new emphasis on comparison, a couple of new standards are being tested that haven’t been tested before (RI.9-10.8 and RI.9-10.9). You can see why having students practice the relationship between two texts is so important. Try to find articles or short stories that have comparable themes. You are probably already making connections between texts your students read during the year but connecting themes and ideas in texts should now become a major part of your approach. You can also use the comparative questions from previous years for practice. Questions 19 through 27 or 28 have consistently compared two passages since 2016.

There is also more emphasis on non-fiction this year. On the sample MCAS 2.0 test, there are only four questions based on a fictional text. The selection is a poem, and the abstract nature of poetry increases the level of difficulty for students. During the past two years of paper-based tests, there has been a greater proportion of questions based on fiction (40-50%). The sample test indicates a shift in emphasis to non-fiction. Although teachers obviously need to follow a prescribed curriculum, they should try to incorporate non-fiction pieces when possible.

Another major change is in how questions are asked. MCAS 2.0 questions are generally more analytical. There are fewer questions that just ask for details. The questions ask for deeper analysis and reasoning. Students will need to find evidence in texts and synthesize ideas. Previously, test questions only required one answer for one question. The new test has two-part questions that require higher order thinking skills. The choice in the second part of the question depends on the answer to the first part. Students may also be asked to select multiple answers for one question. Although this sounds complicated, the two-part questions may actually be helpful to students. If a student chooses an incorrect answer in the first part, she may have trouble finding a good supporting answer in the second part. This can prompt her to rethink the original answer. Teachers need to make sure that students understand how to make the connections between the two questions from two texts.

Technology-enhanced questions are another new feature of MCAS 2.0. Instead of simple multiple choice or open response items, the student will have to make answer choices by highlighting text on the computer or making choices on a table. For example, there is a table of statements on the practice test and the student is given claims. He has to choose whether the statement fits one or both texts. Students need to work on this skill by taking notes on each text, so they won’t have to waste time going back and forth between texts.

The last two categories, language and writing, have not changed as much. Previously, only language standards were being tested in the open response questions of reading comprehension. Now writing standards are included. It’s not just about citing evidence from the text. Students will be tested on reasoning and the development of ideas. There have never been many language questions on the test and the percentage is similar on the practice test. Previously, most language questions were vocabulary- related. There is still a vocabulary question on the sample test, but there is also a question that requires students to analyze the purpose of the punctuation. Again, students are being required not just to correct a sentence but to understand why the author would choose a particular type of punctuation. How does it function in the text? Why did the author choose this particular punctuation? Answering these questions requires analytical skill. Open response writing is similar to the essays in previous tests that required students to compare two texts. Students are expected to explain a literary convention from both texts—such as mood or point of view. Collecting textual evidence and comparative analysis are key skills for the essays. And again—don’t forget the word limit. Practice is going to be the key.

Students: you don’t have to be too worried about MCAS 2.0 ELA. You should try to be thoughtful about all your reading. An active reader is an analytical reader. If you sharpen your skills in your everyday reading, you will find that making connections and analyzing evidence becomes an integral part of the way you read. Keep reading, thinking and building your critical kills. If you do, those questions will seem easy on test day.

Finally, good luck.

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