Assessment: Measuring Student Achievement
Throughout the school year, teachers test or assess students on what they have learned and what they can do. Assessments include paper-and-pencil tests, computer-based tests, oral and written reports, performances, and projects.
Teachers, or the companies that publish the curricula used in our 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 (ELA), math, history, and science are created by BPS educators for use in all BPS schools, in partnership with assessment companies.
A new generation of statewide standards-based assessments for ELA and mathematics was first given in grades 3 through 8 in Spring 2017 and grades 10 in Spring 2019 in every public school district and charter school in the state.
BPS also uses a variety of reading and math tests given in school districts all over the United States.
Assessments Serve Many Purposes
Report card grades. Test scores are part of the student’s report card grade in each subject.
“Benchmarks.” The BPS uses the results of specific assessments to make decisions about a student’s academic standing. When students do not reach the “benchmark” (minimum passing score) on these tests, they may receive extra help, they may have to attend summer school, or they may have to repeat a course or grade. Examples: BPS end-of-course assessments. (See pages 18–23.)
Formative assessments help teachers identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they have difficulty acquiring, or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques, and academic support. Formative assessments are assessments for learning rather than assessments of learning.
Summative assessments measure the “sum” of students’ learning, often at the middle and end of the school year. They may help a teacher or school to identify areas of strength and weakness in their curriculum or teaching (such as when most of the class gives the wrong answer to one type of question). Examples: MCAS; BPS end-of-course assessment.
Special Programming: Some test results identify students who are eligible for special schools and programs. Examples: Terra Nova for admission to Advanced Work Class; ISEE for admission to the exam schools.
Questions about Assessments
Do all students have to take MCAS?
Yes, all students enrolled in Massachusetts public schools in tested grades must participate in MCAS testing, including pilot and charter schools. Also, special education students in private schools funded by the BPS must be tested.
How will I find out my child’s 2021 MCAS scores?
As a result of federal and state actions and in light of the Covid-19 health crisis, the Spring 2020 MCAS tests for all students were canceled.
If high school students participated in an MCAS retest prior to school closures, parents will receive their child’s MCAS test report when schools reopen.
What if my child is in special education?
All special education students are required to take the tests. Students’ IEP or Section 504 Teams can make decisions regarding appropriate test accommodations. A test accommodation is a change in how a test is given, in the way a student responds to test questions to allow students to demonstrate knowledge and skills. The procedures should be clearly stated in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan. Special education students who need an alternate assessment will take MCAS Alternate tests (MCAS-Alt).
What if my child is an English learner?
English Learners must participate in all MCAS tests scheduled for their grades. The one exception applies to students in their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools, for whom ELA MCAS testing is optional.
In addition, all English Learners in Grades K2-12, regardless of the number of years of enrollment in U.S. schools, must take the state’s annual English language proficiency assessment, ACCESS for ELLs (Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Learners). ACCESS for ELLs monitors students’ progress in acquiring academic English in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.