MCAS Next Generation: What do the latest MCAS scores mean for our schools?

Standardized tests like the MCAS are certainly not the only way to measure student or school success. There are many factors that go into assessing the quality of a school. But MCAS results do provide a tool to track growth and a window into existing achievement gaps. That’s why 3rd Grade English language arts and 8th Grade Math MCAS are two of the 23 indicators we use to measure progress on our Condition of Education Data Dashboard.

The state recently released the latest round of MCAS scores, giving us a chance to dig into these two indicators. While we’re only looking at two grades, we feel this gives us a good snapshot into progress across the education pipeline. So what do you need to know about this year’s results? Scores improved from last year with 50 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations in 8th grade math and 52 percent meeting or exceeded expectations in 3rd grade ELA, up from 48 and 47 percent, respectively.

While scores increased across races, ethnicities, and student groups, the results underscore the inequities that persists in our education system. For example, only 27 percent of African American and 28 percent of Latino students met or exceeded expectations in 8th grade math, compared to 77 percent of Asian students and 56 percent of white students. Meanwhile, only 33 percent of economically disadvantaged students met or exceeded expectations in 3rd Grade ELA, compared to 52 percent of students overall.              

This is only the second year of results since the state revamped the MCAS test. In 2015—the last year results from the older version of the test were reported—60 percent of students scored proficient or higher on both 3rd Grade ELA and 8th grade math. While at first glance this might seem like a downward trend in school progress, the 2017 and 2018 scores reflect a new test and new scoring system.

The nearly 20-year-old assessment was overhauled to meet today’s standards, making a new test aimed at better measuring readiness. State officials say the “Next Generation MCAS” was designed collaboratively across grades to help schools more accurately measure student progress. The new test was created to be taken on a computer and is meant to include more rigorous content that focuses on critical thinking, application of knowledge, and making connections between reading and writing.

Not only is the test itself different, but the reporting system is different too. While the old test used a scale of “Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement, and Warning” to report scores, the new version uses “Exceeding, Meeting, Partially Meeting, and Not Meeting Expectations." The state defines “Meeting Expectations” as the level of skill needed to move forward to the next grade without substantial review or remediation.

The state is also rolling out a new accountability system this year, swapping out the Level 1-5 designations that were previously applied to schools and districts. Instead, schools will be classified as “schools of recognition, meeting targets, partially meeting targets, requiring targeted assistance, or requiring broad comprehensive support.” These ratings are based on an updated accountability system that is more focused on how schools contribute to student growth. Schools will be evaluated based on how students progress toward that school’s individual target.

While MCAS results and growth still vastly outweigh all other factors in rating schools, the state looks at a number of additional indicators including graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, progress toward English proficiency for English Language Learners, and advanced coursework completion. The new accountability system also looks specifically at how the lowest 25 percent of students in each school progress from year to year.

While we may not be able to compare scores from the last two years to previous MCAS results, our data dashboard will be tracking progress on the new test to see how our state works toward reducing achievement gaps in years to come. But it’s important to remember that MCAS scores are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to assessing student learning and school success.


Next Generation 3rd Grade ELA MCAS and Next Generation 8th Grade Math MCAS are two key indicators the Rennie Center uses to assess progress in our education system. To learn about other indicators and look at progress over time or outcomes for different student groups, check out our interactive data dashboard