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High school sophomores to take MCAS next year, state plan recommends

The statewide MCAS exam was canceled this spring in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The statewide MCAS exam was canceled this spring in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.Jim Walker/Globe file

Tenth-graders, who would have taken the MCAS exam this spring if not for COVID-19 school closures, will instead face the test next winter under a plan released today by state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley.

In a memo to state education board members, who reviewed the plan at their meeting today, Riley laid out his recommendations for closing gaps in testing while acknowledging that plans could change “depending on the evolving nature of the pandemic."

“The schedule for that testing will be announced shortly," Riley wrote, adding that officials would balance the need to provide students an opportunity to take the test with “the uncertainties about school schedules and conditions next year.”

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Education officials canceled this spring’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in April in response to the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented action in the 27-year history of the test. The state’s 1993 Education Reform Act requires annual standardized testing in public schools in grades 4, 8, and 10. High school seniors must pass the 10th-grade exam to graduate.

The state created an alternative path to graduation this spring for 12th graders who had met all other graduation requirements but had not yet passed the MCAS when the pandemic hit. Those students were able to submit transcripts for review, demonstrating that they passed courses covering the material that would have appeared on the exam.

A similar modification, approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its meeting Tuesday, will loosen the science MCAS requirement for the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 - current juniors, sophomores, and freshmen - allowing them to demonstrate competency in science through course credits instead of testing. Riley said the change acknowledges recent disruption to the MCAS schedule, calling it an “extraordinary step” for extraordinary times.

Normally, students must pass one of four science MCAS tests - in biology, chemistry, introductory physics, or technology/engineering - in addition to those in language arts and math. Ninety-four percent of current 11th graders have already passed one of the science exams, Riley said.

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Next year’s sophomore class will take the Grade 10 MCAS in the spring of 2021 as usual, according to the commissioner’s memo, and next year’s seniors will have two opportunities to retake the test in both ELA and math, as they have in previous years.

The state is also working to modify criteria for state scholarships, including the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, that currently require students to earn certain scores in all three MCAS subject areas.


Jenna Russell can be reached at jenna.russell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe.