Testing and Assessment

  • Throughout the school year, teachers test, or assess, students on what they have learned and what they can do. Assessment includes paper-and-pencil tests, oral and written reports, performances, and projects. Teachers or the companies that publish the textbooks used in schools create some of the tests our students take. Other tests, such as the Boston Public Schools end-of-course assessments in English language arts, math, history, and science, are created by BPS educators for use in all BPS schools.


    The Boston Public Schools began using Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments in 2015. PARCC is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and their careers.

    The PARCC tests are divided into two sections, given at two different times. They measure students’ skills in reading, writing, and math.

    See more Information about PARCC on the BPS website and the Mass. Dept. of Elementary & Secondary Education website.


    Before the 2014-2015 school year, every student attending a Massachusetts public school took MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests. MCAS was given in grades 3-10. The subjects tested vary by grade. They included English language arts (ELA), reading comprehension, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering.

    Read more about MCAS on the Mass DESE website. See MCAS test items here.

    Is PARCC replacing MCAS?

    The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE) will vote in fall 2015 whether to phase out MCAS and adopt PARCC.

    Why has the state developed a new test? To make sure students are learning what they need to know and be able to do at each grade level, MDESE and local educators periodically upgrade Massachusetts’ curriculum standards. In 2010, MDESE adopted the Common Core. This is a rigorous set of national standards in English language arts and math, to which Massachusetts has added 20 math standards as well as pre-kindergarten standards. PARCC is designed to measure students’ mastery of the Common Core and to predict their readiness for college.

    MCAS was designed to test mastery of the older Mass. curriculum standards and was never intended to be a predictor of college readiness.

    Which tests will students take in 2016?

    • If PARCC is adopted, all students in grades 3-8 will take PARCC tests in English language arts/literacy and math.
    • All students in grades 5, 8, and high school will participate in MCAS science and technology/engineering tests.
    • All high school students through the Class of 2019 must continue to pass the grade 10/high school MCAS tests in ELA, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering to satisfy the state graduation requirement.
    • Students in grades 9 and/or 11 may take PARCC ELA and math tests.
    • English language learners in their first year in a U. S. school are exempt from the PARCC ELA/Literacy test, but they must take ACCESS for ELLs.
    • Students with a disability will continue to take the MCAS Alternative Assessment, not the PARCC test.

    How are PARCC and MCAS results used?

    Educators, parents, and students use MCAS and PARCC results to:
    • follow student progress: Boston Public Schools uses results of these tests to make promotion decisions
    • identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in curriculum and instruction
    • gather information that can be used to improve student performance
    • identify students who may need extra academic supportidentify academic growth students have made from one grade to the next.
    The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) uses MCAS and PARCC results and other data to determine if schools and districts are meeting standards for improving student academic performance. In addition, as required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), DESE reports on the progress and performance of schools and districts based on MCAS and PARCC results.

    The MCAS Graduation Requirement

    In order to graduate from high school, students must earn a Competency Determination (CD) in ELA, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering (STE) as well as meeting their coursework and attendance requirements. To earn a CD in ELA and/or mathematics, a student must reach a performance level of Proficient or Advanced. Students who score in a performance level of Needs Improvement in ELA and/or mathematics must also fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP), which is an individualized intervention plan that includes additional coursework and an assessment component. (Please ask your child’s headmaster for further information about EPP.) To earn a CD in STE, a student must pass one of the MCAS high school science tests (biology, physics, chemistry, or technology/engineering).

    Students who do not pass high school MCAS the first time may retake it even after they leave high school. If a student has taken the tests at least three times or has participated in the MCAS Alternate Assessment twice and has not yet passed the ELA and/or math test, the student may be eligible to file an MCAS Performance Appeal for ELA and/or mathematics. To be eligible to file an MCAS Performance Appeal for science, a student must have taken an MCAS high school science test at least one time (or completed an MCAS Alternate Assessment) and must be currently enrolled in a science class or have completed grade 12. For a description of the process and eligibility requirements, visit the BPS website. Check with the school headmaster to see if your child is eligible to have an appeal filed with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.