Massachusetts Reformers Propose Authentic Assessment System

K-12 Testing

A group of Massachusetts assessment reform advocates have proposed an alternative statewide accountability program that would eliminate the use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test as a high-stakes graduation test and would create a “comprehensive assessment system” marked by multiple means of assessing students and schools. The plan was developed by parents and educators in the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE), due to concerns about the high-stakes test such as: a growing tendency for schools to teach to the test, inequities between school systems and communities, and the risks that competent students will be mislabeled as “failing.” The group plans to promote their plan to the state legislature and other state officials. The following is taken from the group’s proposal:

The primary purpose of a state accountability system should be to assist schools to improve the quality of learning for all students, to hold schools responsible for desired results, and to assist in determining whether students have mastery of an essential set of core knowledge, skills, and habits of mind. In developing such a system, the Education Reform Act was concerned about both excellence and equity.

However, the MCAS is being misused for high-stakes decisions - no one test should be the sole determinant to decide whether a student graduates from high school. Rather than raising achievement for all students, this narrow approach to accountability will increase the gap in opportunity and performance between groups of students, while also resulting in higher grade retention and dropout rates. MCAS has also diminished the exercise of democracy and local innovation by excluding parents, teachers, students, and administrators from decision making, and by undercutting intellectual freedom.

The Education Reform Act specifically called for the state to create a multi-layered assessment system that included local as well as state assessments, and work samples, portfolios, and exhibitions as well as paper and pencil tests. The state should return to these original mandates for shared accountability. CARE proposes a comprehensive statewide accountability plan that would preserve a focus on high standards for all students and public accountability for all schools, while also promoting genuine reform in teaching and learning in all schools and classrooms.


CARE’s proposed system of accountability consists of four integrated components:

1) Local Assessments Governed by Broad State Competencies. CARE supports an assessment system in which schools, rather than the state, would determine graduation. Each school in the Commonwealth would develop its own accountability and assessment plan. The plan would outline how students will demonstrate that they meet the state’s Common Core of Learning leading to graduation, as well as the curriculum, instructional approaches, and authentic assessment measures the school will use. Each school would submit its accountability plan to a regional board, established by the Massachusetts Department of Education, for review and approval.

2) School Quality Reviews. All schools would be placed on a three-to-five-year cycle to undertake quality reviews. A key goal of school quality reviews is to ensure equitable and quality resources and learning opportunities are being provided to all students, and that the school is improving the achievement of all students. A school selected for review would engage in a self-study, leading to the creation of a school portfolio. A team of practitioners from other districts would then spend 3-4 days to collect evidence to determine whether progress toward meeting the benchmarks was being made. The school would receive oral and written feedback from the review team, including recommendations. Schools failing to reach the benchmarks would be placed on a one-year follow-up review cycle, with further intervention required if the school still did not make progress.

3) Limited Standardized Testing Focused Solely on Literacy and Numeracy. CARE supports the use of a limited amount of standardized testing as an additional source of information Such tests should not have high stakes attached to them, should take only a few hours to administer, and should assess only literacy and numeracy.

4) Required Annual School Reports. CARE advocates that the state develop a list of indicators that each school and district must annually report to its stake holders, including academic performance and other outcomes of students by race, gender, low-income status, special needs, and limited English proficiency. Schools and districts would be required to disseminate their reports to parents and the community.

To read the full CARE proposal, click here, or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to CARE Accountability at FairTest.