Standardized assessments are a common tool used by educators to help understand what students know and what they can do. When we administer these exams, we attempt to keep the testing conditions consistent for all students so that we can be sure that differences in scores are due to differences in knowledge and abilities rather than other unrelated factors. Assessments come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and purposes and this page will walk you through some of the ones we employ at BART.
For questions about student assessment, please contact BART’s Data and Assessment Coordinator, Brendan Longe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-743-7311 x713.
One of the central initiatives at BART is the interim assessment cycle. Interim assessment happens four times each year across all grades in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. Interims are formative, meaning they are designed to help teachers reflect on and improve their teaching on an ongoing, relatively frequent basis. After each round of assessment, teachers come together for a day or half day of professional development where they interpret results, reflect on areas for growth, and collaborate to develop action plans.
Teachers are often looking for how students do on different standards. Teachers also want to know how groups of students performed. Results often lead to new strategies of grouping students, standards to focus on or reteach, selecting priorities to focus on in student writing, which subskills to revisit, etc. Interims also serve the dual purpose of giving students practice doing their best on rigorous assessments that mimic the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) or College Board exams.
Middle school interims are provided by Achievement Network, a non-profit organization with which BART has partnered for many years. These are online tests aligned with the MCAS.
High school interims are a mix and based on the standards taught in different grade levels or subjects.
- English Language Arts (ELA): Grades 9 and 10 ELA uses released MCAS exams. Grades 11 and 12 ELA use released Advanced Placement (AP) English exams. All ELA students also do a writing prompt to measure student writing aptitude.
- Mathematics: Mathematics assessments vary depending on the subject and are drawn from the released common core, Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), MCAS, New York Regents, and AP exams.
- Science: For all grade levels in science, BART recently starting implementing a performance task that gives students a problem or dataset and asks them to make inferences and arguments about science topics. This mirrors where we believe the MCAS will go, asking more in-depth questions that ask students to think critically about a topic rather than recall facts.
Over the past few years, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) had been trying new assessments in response to national shifts in student assessment. In the spring of 2015 and 2016, BART opted to join much of the state in piloting the PARCC assessment after many years of administering the MCAS. In the fall of 2016, DESE decided to abandon the PARCC assessment and revise the old MCAS to be MCAS 2.0. The new MCAS is taken online by students and middle school and will soon be taken online by high school students as well.
There are a number of things that make the new MCAS a more rigorous bar than previous assessments, which is something in part inspired by Massachusetts’ leadership in developing and using the PARCC assessment. For more information about the assessment, please visit the Parents’ Guide to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and these resources for parents and guardians released by DESE. To view BART’s and other schools’ historical assessment results, please visit DESE’s school and district profiles.
BART uses results from the MCAS each year to help make decisions about school priorities and areas of focus, and reflect on student growth. We wholeheartedly agree with DESE’s position that assessment is important because it helps everyone locally and nationwide understand what our students know and can do.
An additional state assessment is the ACCESS assessment for English Language Learners (ELL). This is a yearly assessment that allows and the state to track ELL English language development. It measures reading, writing, listening and speaking. Students who get to level 5 out of 6 are considered to have mastery of the English language and can be reclassified as former ELL students.
High School and College Assessment
High school students take a few special tests that are used to help colleges make decisions about admissions and course placement. The College Board is a nationally recognized non-profit company that produces the tests. Students can opt to have their scores sent to colleges of their choice, and at the same time, have the opportunity to join mailing lists for scholarships and colleges. It is important to know that monetary costs are typically assessed to students/families in order to take College Board assessments.
- The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) looks at student math, critical reading, and writing ability and is typically taken by juniors and seniors. The results often, but not always, required by college admissions offices to aid them in making the decision to admit a student. SAT scores are never the only piece of information those offices use to make admissions decisions and the weight they carry will vary from college to college. SAT exams can be scheduled at multiple time each year.
- The Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) is paid for by BART and administered to all sophomores and juniors every October. As the name suggests, this is a preliminary peek at where students will land on their SAT. However, it is important to remember that earning a certain score on the PSAT does not mean that a student will be certain to get that same score in the future. Reports help students identify strengths and areas for growth. Students connect their College Board accounts with Khan Academy, which will automatically customize learning activities based on their results.
- Advanced Placement (AP) exams are required to be taken by students who participate in BART’s most rigorous AP courses. Every year we try to offer as many AP courses as possible, with 2017-2018 being our most extensive offering ever. Students who score a 3 (out of 5) or better on these exams are typically eligible to earn credit for that course at their future college. Students/families should verify each college’s policy regarding awarding credit for AP exam performance; some require a higher score, and some may not award credit at all. Typically administered in May.
- Accuplacer is an assessment of student reading, writing, and math that is specifically designed to place students in their senior year college course. Typically administered in April for free.
- The ACT is an alternative exam comparable to the SAT. Different colleges may accept either one, some may require one or the other.