Thanks to a parting shot from Old Man Winter, thousands of Massachusetts students will get a reprieve from a statewide writing test and now have another week to sharpen their brains and their pencils.
State education officials, worried that an expected snowstorm Tuesday could force many school closures and delays, put off the MCAS English Language Arts Composition exam until Monday, March 25. The change is meant to head off any security concerns with the exam, an essay administered to grades 4, 7, and 10.
For each of the grades, students across the state are given an identical essay prompt. If one school were tested before another, students taking the exam later could potentially find out about the prompt, allowing them to plan an answer and giving them an unfair advantage, said JC Considine, a spokesman for the state Elementary and Secondary Education Department.
“We want to make sure it’s the same opportunity for all students,” he said.
Considine added that it is “very rare” for the state to postpone MCAS testing, and the only prior delay that he could recall was in April 2003, when the same composition test was pushed back ahead of an expected storm.
In announcing the delay, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a statement that while the last-minute change may be disruptive for schools and students, “for security reasons it is critical that all schools administer the ELA Composition on the same day.”
Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, voiced support for the delay Monday.
“We were the ones that encouraged the decision,” Scott said. “I just think it sort of clears the deck, has everyone on the same page, and maintains the integrity of the process.”
If a school is in session Tuesday, it can still administer a separate reading comprehension test.
Under state law, high school students must pass Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in English, mathematics, and science to graduate.
The storm is expected to drop as much as 18 inches of snow on some areas of the state, with the highest amounts in northern Central and Western Massachusetts.
Snowfall amounts are expected to taper towards the coast, with the Boston area receiving 4 to 6 inches, and in Southeastern Massachusetts and on the Cape and islands, where some areas may see less than inch.
Lee McGuire, a spokesman for the Boston public schools, which canceled Tuesday’s classes, said the testing delay was helpful.
“We appreciate the state taking a proactive approach in advance of the predicted storm,” McGuire said in an e-mail.
“This way, districts like ours can make the call based purely on the weather and not worry about an exam. Our teachers make sure our students can excel in the classroom every day, so regardless of when the MCAS is administered, we’ll be ready.”