Friday, June 26, 2009

Math and Reading Tip of the Day: MCAS as a Free Resource

Truly I Am Not Crazy How to Use MCAS As Free Resource

I know MCAS has become a dirty word among both parents and educators. However, for those of you seeking free resources to work on reading and math skills, old MCAS tests are free and provide some interesting options. First and the most compelling is that you can access them on-line and there is no charge. The available resources go back several years so you have lots of options in choosing the materials you are looking to use. Second, the problems are tied to specific curriculum threads. When you look at the problems and the answer keys, you can determine not just a general category for the problem, but you can identify the specific strand or strands this problem covers. This can work as a great diagnostic tool in trying to understand what skills you want to focus in on with an individual or group of children who are not able to answer the question. Lastly, the answer keys are also available on-line so correcting the questions is quick and easy.

Parents and teachers can use the problems in a variety of ways. In math there are multiple choice and short answer questions on the test that cover a range of the math standards. The reading and language arts portions also have multiple choice, short answer, and longer writing formats that can be utilized depending on interest and choice. The writing passages do provide sample answers and grades. It depends on the user if these activities would be useful in the program being utilized.

For those seeking to find more challenging math problems, seek a standard to evaluate against, I find the multiple choice questions to be the easiest to pull off the system and use for this purpose. The written questions do have some value but are geared more towards specific state testing purposes, not general tutoring and instructional value. I do know some outside the school system who do use them for writing practice. It is an individual choice.

Finding reading passages that tie to a specific grade level and educational standard can also be challenging. The MCAS leveled questions also provide this information when you use their reading passages and evaluate the answers the children answer both correctly and incorrectly. These are also passages that extend to cover language arts topics based on grade level.

Now I would never suggest you sit down and give your child a full blown MCAS practice test. However, taking a reading passage, that would be one, and using it as a reading practice instead of a workbook exercise is not a bad choice. The passages will give you some information not always found in commercially available products. The same goes for the other tests available on-line. Using the material in pieces can give you free material to use and provide you with specific information about what your child is able to do and areas that still need to be worked on.

This is the link for the Massachusetts Frameworks that tells you what is covered by grade level and will give you the stands covered under the tests.

MA Math Frameworks

The MCAS tests can be found at the following address:
Where to locate MCAS Tests

This gives you an example of the kind of information you can find on the test reports. The following are from the Fourth Grade MCAS tests.

Answers are provided here for multiple-choice items and short-answer items only. Sample responses and scoring guidelines for open-response items, which are indicated by shaded cells, will be posted to the Department’s website later this year.

Item No. Page No. Reporting Category Standard Correct Answer (MC/SA)*

1 145 Number Sense and Operations 4.N.7 C

2 145 Geometry 4.G.1 D

3 146 Number Sense and Operations 4.N.11 B

4 147 Measurement 4.M.5

Item No. Page Reporting Category Standard Correct Answer (MC)*
1 27 Reading and Literature 15 D

2 27 Reading and Literature 13 D

3 27 Reading and Literature 13 C

4 27 Reading and Literature 13 D

2009 MCAS Release MA DOE Site

If you refer to the Massachusetts frameworks you can now identify what area of number sense and operations, for instance are covered by looking up the strand number. The charts are available for each test and are better contained when printed in standard format.

Another article on this topic: Teach to the Test or Teach to the Standard?

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