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Ben Underwood

Special Correspondent

To prepare for the new “Next-Generation” computerized MCAS,  Holliston High School administered a pilot test to a random 25% of sophomores in the 2017-2018 school year.

HHS was chosen as a school to pilot this test in order to fix any bugs in the system before the state-wide administration of computerized MCAS tests starting in the 2018-2019 school year.

The Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) decided in fall 2015 to design a new, online MCAS test for administration across the state in the 2018-2019 school year.

“Students are increasingly using computers towards their educations,” said Jackie Reis, who works in Communications and Board Relations at the DOE, “we are just trying to keep up.”

Before the “Next-Gen” MCAS, teachers and administrators had to organize the paper tests in a certain way to prepare them for grading, but now the computers do that for them.

In addition, the new tests can be graded more efficiently, so students will receive their scores sooner than they have in the past, according to Reis.

At HHS, this pilot served its purpose as the testing scenario was not ideal for both the students and administrators involved.

“When the test was on paper, you could write anything, anywhere,” said junior Audrey Strock who participated in the pilot last year. “For this one, all I had was a piece of scrap paper.” Strock also said she needed a calculator and did not have access to one.

While the new test revealed some shortcomings, there are benefits to the online test which were not available with the paper test.

Students with an IEP or 504 plan may now be offered new tools such as audio and video as an accommodation. Tools like the highlighter or the bookmark tool would be available to all students.

Mr. Patrick Kelley, Vice Principal of HHS, said it was difficult to tell if students took the pilot test seriously because they were aware the test did not count towards their grades. However, he said he thinks students took it as seriously as if the test had been paper.

“I knew the test didn’t count towards a final grade and I also knew colleges wouldn’t see my scores,” Strock said, “so I didn’t take it too seriously.”

Administrators need more training than they had previously so they can learn about and fully understand the program. According to Mr.  Kelley, administrators of the pilot went through an hour training session before it took place.

Mr.  Kelley’s main concern with the computerized testing format is that students are very comfortable taking tests, especially math tests, on paper. He said that looking at a graph on a screen is much different than having it physically on paper.

Parents, students, and teachers have a concern that cheating may be a problem. The DOE shares this concern, and has taken it into account while designing this test.

“Just because the tests are on the computer, does not mean kids will have access to things like the internet” said Reis. Test administrators also have a computer in front of them with which they can see the screens of each student in the testing room. The program’s abilities come close to eliminating the possibility of cheating.

“Now that we have upgraded our learning expectations over the years through revisions to our learning standards and content standards, it is time to upgrade our assessments for the next generation of students,” according to the DOE website.


image credit: https://goo.gl/n61iSo

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