SPrEaD the word

Volume 1 Issue 6 (01.13.2020)

MCAS or MCAS-Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt)?

All students educated with Massachusetts public funds, including students with disabilities, must participate in MCAS using one of the following formats:

  • Routine (standard) MCAS testing

  • MCAS testing using one or more test accommodation(s)

  • MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt)

Students with disabilities take standard computer-based or paper and pencil MCAS tests, either with or without accommodations, at the grade specified for assessment in that subject. A very small number of students with the most significant disabilities, about 1% statewide, take the MCAS Alternate Assessment.

Each student's IEP or 504 team decides how, not whether, the student will participate in MCAS in the coming year. This decision is reviewed annually and for each content area being assessed: ELA, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering.

Who Should Take MCAS-Alt? A student with a disability who is…

  • Working on learning standards that have been substantially modified due to the severity of the disability, and is

  • Receiving intensive, individualized instruction in order to acquire, generalize, and demonstrate knowledge and skills, and is

  • Unable to demonstrate knowledge and skills on a standardized, on-demand paper or online test, even with accommodations

A student should not take the MCAS-Alt based solely on

  • a particular disability or placement

  • is frequently absent from school

  • has not received instruction in the general curriculum

  • requires assistive technology or an augmentative communication system that has not been provided

  • previous low achievement on MCAS or classwork

  • lack of standards-based instruction

  • participation in MCAS-Alt the previous year (since this is an annual decision)

  • EL status

  • low income or child in foster care

  • principal’s wish to earn accountability points

Other assessment options for students with significant disabilities:

A student with a significant disability should be considered for a grade-level or competency portfolio, if he/she:

  • performs classroom work at or near grade-level;

  • cannot demonstrate knowledge and skills on the MCAS test in that grade and subject, even with accommodations; and

  • is attempting to earn a score that is comparable to a student who takes and passes the MCAS test.

The MA DESE has released a Decision-Making Tool for MCAS Participation by Students with Disabilities. Team chairs will be using this resource with IEP teams. The Team’s decision will be noted in the N1 as well as on IEP7 “State or District-Wide Assessments.”

Parents must be clearly informed, as part of the IEP process, that their child’s academic achievement will be measured based on “alternate achievement standards;” and participation in an alternate assessment may eventually delay or otherwise affect completing the requirements for a diploma. When the Team has determined the student will participate in MCAS-Alt, the Team Chair will forward the parent/guardian additional written notification. (see parent letter)

The MCAS-Alt consists of a portfolio of materials collected annually by the teacher and student. Evidence for the student portfolio may include work samples, instructional data, videotapes, and other supporting information and materials based on the student's performance in the subject being assessed.

Other helpful MCAS resources:

Accessibility and Accommodations Manual for the 2019–2020 MCAS Tests and Retests

MCAS-Alt Resources and Training


MA DESE “MCAS-Alt and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” powerpoint

MCAS Accommodation SA1 (Special Access): Text-to-Speech (SA1.1) or Human read-aloud (SA1.2)

When considering Text-to-speech (SA1.1) or Human read-aloud (SA1.2) for next-generation ELA tests; or Kurzweil 3000 (SA1.3) electronic text reader or Human read-aloud (SA1.2) for the legacy ELA Reading Comprehension retest, including oral presentation of test questions, response options, and passages:

This accommodation is intended for a small number of students with disabilities that severely limit or prevent them from reading, as documented in locally administered diagnostic evaluations.

The student must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be virtually unable to read, even after varied and repeated attempts to teach the student to do so (i.e., the student is at the very beginning stages of learning to read, and not simply reading below grade level), as determined by locally administered diagnostic evaluations; and

  • receive ongoing intervention to learn the skill; and

  • use this accommodation routinely (except during instruction in learning to read).

For example:

Joey is a fifth-grader, with a second-grade independent reading level as indicated by the Quick Phonics Screener (QPS) and F & P. He participates in Tier 1 reading classes and grade level text is read to him or accessed via audio recording. Daily, Joe receives pull out reading services with a special educator. Lessons focus on phonics instruction and comprehension, utilizing decodable text. When participating in his pull out reading services, he independently reads the materials. When Joey’s Team convenes, they reviewed the Decision-Making Tool and determine he will participate in the computer-based MCAS tests in ELA, math and science and technology/engineering, with appropriate accessibility features and accommodations. The Team reviewed the Accessibility and Accommodations Manual, specifically pages 21-24 to review the Special Access Accommodations. The Team determined Joey meets the criteria for Text-to-speech (SA1.1) and will be tested within his classroom with headphones. This is not a new accommodation for him as he has been accessing grade-level reading materials in the same manner. (Remember accommodations should be part of the student's routine, daily instruction.)


For those of you who participated in the Phonics training on Tuesday, January 7th, with Lizz, thank you for your time and participation. Lizz and I met briefly following the training and will get together in the coming weeks to discuss and map out next steps. Here is a link to her presentation.

For the junior/senior high school special education teachers, please know this training was not intended to excluded you, but rather to clarify the use of the Wonders program and phonics with elementary students. As Lizz and I work to develop the next steps, there will be opportunities for you to participate as well.

Next steps include:

  • Lizz and I will observe ELA blocks (small and whole group)
  • Scheduling a Telian training
  • Administrative conversations regarding academic service delivery and continuum of services
  • Special department conversations regarding academic service delivery and continuum of services
  • Defining the role of Special Education providers in MTSS


Effective immediately, a copy of the signed consent will accompany testing advisories. It is important that all evaluators review this document prior to administering evaluations. Should you have questions, please reach out to the Team Chair.

Future Topics:

  • Role of the BCBA
  • Team Process
  • Development of the IEP
  • Parent Response to an IEP
  • MPS Policy and Procedures Regarding In School Observation by Parents and their Designee