SEPAC offers workshop on understanding the Next Generation MCAS

Westfield Public Schools Director of Assessment Denise Ruszala and Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski. (Photo submitted)

WESTFIELD – SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council) is holding a workshop on “Understanding the Next Generation MCAS and how it impacts all our students” on Thursday, February 1, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Westfield Technical Academy cafeteria. Guest speaker will be Denise Ruszala, Director of Assessment and Accountability for Westfield Public Schools.
“SEPAC asked me to come and speak about Next Generation MCAS and how it impacts them and their students. We thought we would provide parents with an understanding of the Next Generation and the new grading criteria,” Ruszala said. She said all parents are welcome to attend. Following her talk, there will be a question and answer period. Refreshments and child care will also be provided.
Ruszala will go over how the Next Generation MCAS test items and test itself are different, and she will review actual test items. She will also talk about what schools across the district are doing to prepare students for the test.
This year, all students in grades 3-8 will be taking the test online. Ruszala said there will be specific online accommodations available for students with IEPs and 504s. Other accommodations are available for all students, including text to speech and large print.
10th graders will take the Legacy MCAS test, and will be the last group to do so, Ruszala said. Passing the MCAS is a requirement for graduation. In addition, 25% of 10th graders will also pilot the Next Generation test. The pilot will have 25% of students in Westfield High School taking English language arts, and 25% in Westfield Technical Academy taking math. Ruszala said they don’t know yet who will be chosen for the pilot. Pilot scores will not be released.
“In the PARCC pilot, students liked that they had the opportunity to be the pioneers,” Ruszala said, adding, “Students in grades 3-8 love taking online testing.”
For some special education students who are not capable of taking the MCAS test, there is a special MCAS Alternative Assessment. Ruszala will explain how the children are selected for this test, which is available for only 1% of students per district. She said as it stands right now, students taking the MCAS Alternative Assessment cannot receive a diploma, but will receive a Certificate of Attendance.
Ruszala said the decision on who will take the alternative assessment is made with the special education instruction team at the schools. She said there is an appeal process for parents through their guidance counselors, on why that child deserves a diploma for completing the work. She said only 10th grade scores may be appealed.
Ruszala will also talk about a parent survey at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which will allow all parents to give input on the tests. She said parents should make sure their voices are heard by taking the survey.
This year, input from the survey may be more impactful than ever, with a new DESE commissioner coming on board. Friday (January 26), three finalists for the position are being interviewed, and the selection is expected to be made on Monday. More information about the search process is available at Ruszala said until then, the state is on a holding pattern.
Ruszala said the state hasn’t set any targets for any districts, but they are looking for 95% or higher participation. She said public schools are subject to local, state and federal funding. “It gives us good information on practices across the district,” she added.
“Participation can affect our level status. If people don’t take the test, it’s going to affect our entire district negatively,” said WPS Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski.
Ruszala said families who attend the workshop will be given resources to go back and utilize at home. She said a special education supervisor will also attend the meeting, and be available for questions.
“We want to make sure our families are prepared, and have the information they need,” Ruszala said.

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