Reimagining the MCAS: The Need for an Accountability System that Supports Deeper Learning

June 2021

It’s been nearly 25 years since the first MCAS tests were taken. Since then, the test and the state’s accountability system have brought resources to underfunded schools, highlighted inequities in our education system, and pushed Massachusetts to first in the nation in academics. But, with progress stalling, a new understanding of the importance of deeper learning, and decades of data on the unintended consequences the test has had on economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color, it’s time for a change.  We need to fundamentally rethink our approach to assessments.

We know far more about how students learn and develop than we did when the MCAS was first administered. Though the test has become more cognitively demanding over time, much of the content and structure is quickly becoming outdated. New technology gives us the ability to create tests that actually measure learning in a meaningful way.

This policy brief makes the case for Massachusetts to design and pilot a new assessment and accountability system that measures deeper learning, prioritizes cultural responsiveness, and provides timely information to educators, students, families, and policymakers. It examines the impact state assessments can have on classroom instruction and provides recommendations for how policymakers can use a new approach to assessments to foster deeper learning in classrooms.


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