Give yourself as many chances as possible to get a passing score
by Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven
There’s been so much talk about the different versions of the MCAS tests that parents and students may be wondering exactly what is passing and what to do if a student gets a failing score.
All the scores for the Spring 2019 tests are now available to schools. Students who did not pass have a short window to register for the November re-test. Eligibility for the November re-test is limited. Juniors, seniors and repeating sophomores who have received a score of Warning/Failing on the old test or Not Meeting Expectations on the new are eligible for the November re-test. Those who have Needs Improvement (old) or Partially Meeting Expectations (new) will have to wait for the March re-test. Schools will probably schedule students for the November re-test if they have already received a failing score in Math or English. Students who qualify should definitely take the November re-test in order to give themselves as many opportunities as possible to pass before graduation.
The scaled scores on the new NextGen test are different than on the old Legacy, but there are still four levels. The chart below compares the new and old levels. The classes of 2021 and 2022 will be granted an interim passing standard that is equivalent to the old Legacy standards and lower than the new NextGen standards. They will get their Competency Determination (CD) and be able to graduate even though their scores may not meet the new standards. (The class of 2020 follows Legacy-based standards).
Although computer-based testing was available last spring for regular administration tests in Math and English, the 2019-2020 re-tests will be paper-based Legacy tests. The only students who would be eligible for this November retest would be repeating sophomores, new juniors, or seniors who have received failing scores.
(As we’ve discussed before, there were many changes in the NextGen test. You can explore these changes on our website in our MCAS 2.0 webinars, click here to view.)
Why should you rush to take the re-test in November? Because you want to give yourself as many chances as possible to get a passing score. Re-tests will probably continue as paper-based during this school year, but there is no guarantee that DESE will continue to offer paper-based testing after the 2019-20 year. Even if you don’t score Proficient or Partially Meeting Expectations, you may still get a score that will put you on the EPP (Educational Proficiency Plan) track to graduation. Students in this category will have more options. Things are still fluid, and DESE publishes an assessment update every two weeks. To keep up with the latest developments, click here.
You may think November is too soon to re-test if you just took it last spring, but you should do it anyway because you may find it easier. And it’s more practice. It all depends on your skills. You need to do some self- analysis and think about what gave you the most trouble. For English, the main questions are: do you like to write and how do you feel about reading text on the computer? A major change this year was the elimination of the Composition section. The November retest will be a paper Legacy test, so you will have a composition section. For many years, students had to write a long composition and develop an argument based on work they had read in school or at home. If composition is very difficult for you, you may want to ask your guidance counselor if you can take the Next-Generation test next year.
If you don’t mind writing, ask yourself how you felt about reading texts on the computer. Students differ in how they react to reading text on a screen. Some students had trouble analyzing text on a computer screen. And how about comparing texts? The Spring 2019 test had 25 percent more questions that asked students to compare two or three texts. In 2018 there was only one constructed response and 5 questions that required comparison of two texts. For some students, choosing a re-test could be a trade-off between writing a long composition and more complicated comparison questions. You should talk to an English teacher who is familiar with your work and can help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses to help decide what test to take.
It’s a simpler choice in math. The re-test will be based on the 2011 standards. Many standards from high school were moved to middle school with the 2017 frameworks. On the 2018 Math test, 29% of the questions were based on middle school standards. No middle school standards were on the 2019 test. This revision naturally increased the difficultly level. There was also a big increase in geometry this year (from 21% to 40%). If you are stronger in algebra, number sense and statistics and probability, it’s another reason to take the re-test now. Did you feel confused by the new technology-enhanced questions? The November re-test will be multiple choice with an answer booklet. You won’t see anything on it that you haven’t seen before.
Is there anyone who should not take the re-test and wait until the regular administration next spring? Yes. If you are new to Massachusetts as a junior, you may be eligible for an Adams scholarship if you take the spring administration tests next year. If you were a sophomore during 2018- 2019 and had a medically documented absence during the regular test, you will also be eligible for the Adams scholarship if you take the regular administration in 2020. Although the Adams scholarship only covers about 10% of your college costs it’s still worth taking the NextGen tests since you need to pass the MCAS to graduate anyway. Students who take the retest will not be eligible for the scholarship.
November will be here before you know it. If you plan on taking the November re-test, you should start studying right now. Juniors and seniors may already know what areas they need to study. If you don’t know what to study and you’re not in an MCAS review course, you should speak with your former math or English instructor right away.
There are plenty of free test prep resources. See my previous blogs: Summertime Studytime. Rising Freshmen and Sophomores: Make the Most of Your Summer or Mathematics in the Summer? How to Succeed in College by Really Trying (Pt 2). A good study program will be essential for success on the November re-test or any future tests.
There are many reasons students score low on tests, and it’s not always lack of knowledge. Maybe you weren’t feeling well or it was a very stressful time in your life. Poor test performance is not necessarily directly correlated to what you know. If you feel that your score didn’t represent your level of knowledge, take the re-test. It’s important to try and pass the MCAS as soon as possible, so that you can concentrate on your high school coursework and college plans.
Joan Reissman, the MCAS Maven, has been advising students and teachers on learning strategies since 2000.