THE ISSUE: H-W Regional School District is studying the first results of the new MCAS test. THE IMPACT: After more than two decades under the old system, it's a whole new learning curve for the district

The Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District students performed admirably on the 2017 MCAS test, with most students classified as passing and a sizable number exceeding testing expectations.

At least, that’s how district experts and administration are reading the state-mandated “next generation” results.

The 2017 MCAS test is the first conducted under a new set testing standards the state’s top education brass refer to as “achievement levels.” Rather than following the categories of advanced, proficient and other categories, the state has developed four new categories.

District administration reviewed the results with the School Committee at a meeting in late November.

Called MCAS 2.0 for short, the newer tests are based on a combination of the state’s MCAS test, in place for more than two decades, as well as the new federal education standards called PARCC.

PARCC is an acronym for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. A majority of states initially partnered with PARCC have since withdrawn.

The new amalgamation test was created after public pushback to the new standards, with complaints typically espousing fear of “dumbing down” the MCAS test and overreach of the federal government.

The offered a “hold harmless” guarantee for districts taking the PARCC-- and later MCAS 2.0 – tests over the standard MCAS for the past two years, allowed a trial run of the new tests without dragging a district’s overall state standing down.

The four new classification categories for student performance include: Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations, and Not Meeting Expectations.

This was the first year districts were mandated to take the new test.

The district’s overall scores feel substantially into the “meeting expectations” success category, with about 50 to 60 percent of students in all grade levels falling into said category.
Margins for the new advanced category, “Exceeding Expectations,” were thinner, however.

Most tests feel within 5 to 10 percent of students qualifying for the exceeding category, typically on part with the state average.

Margaret McElhinney, director of curriculum for the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District, noted at the meeting this was the first time the district received results from the new tests, requiring both her professional cohorts as well as individual classroom teachers more time to break down what the results mean.

“Obviously, we want to be above the state average,” she said. “But I want to see a bigger margin, no question.”

Hamilton-Wenham District Superintendent Michael Harvey said the new test’s results were the first time the district could accurately track students performance. As a result, the district will be considering new science and math curriculum for the elementary grades, as well using teacher training days to unpack what questions students struggled on and how to better construct their lessons around the test.

The new MCAS test must also be taken on some kind of computer connected to the Internet.

Harvey said Chromebooks and iPads have slowly been added over the past two years to the elementary and middle school grades to administer the test. All high school students must have an iPad starting in grade 9 and use it to take the test their sophomore year. A handful of students still took the old MCAS test this year, most notably grade 10.

Harvey said this will likely be the last pencil-and-paper MCAS as students at the lower grades have become acclimated to the new, computer based test.