MCAS and PSAT/NMSQT Tests to be Administered in January, May and June

by Sophie Strausberg, News Contributor & Preethika Vemula, News Editor
graphic by Abby Kutin

Arriving at South to take the SAT on Dec. 5, junior Olivia Wong was greeted by 10 peers and a proctor, all wearing masks. She sat down six feet away from her closest peer, as ventilation systems droned in the background.

Beginning with the Oct. 3 SAT, standardized testing has slowly returned in a reduced capacity.

Due to safety concerns, MCAS and Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) testing was delayed from November to January, but will both occur in-person. 

The decision to postpone MCAS and administer tests in-person was made by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). 

Science department head Gerard Gagnon said that the pandemic adds a new layer to the already-stressful process of administering standardized tests.

“It’s challenging to manage the demands that the state is putting on schools given the backdrop of the pandemic and many districts in distance learning,” he said.

Gagnon said that the decision to hold tests in-person was likely made to stay true to standardized testing’s design.

As always, students must earn at least a passing score on the English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics sections of the MCAS to fulfill their graduation requirement. If they fail to reach this threshold, they will have to retake the tests or follow an Educational Proficiency Plan to graduate.

This year DESE is providing two versions of the MCAS: the Legacy test, which has been administered in previous years, and the Next-Gen test, which has been adapted for the new state standards.

Juniors and seniors who have not already taken the Legacy ELA and mathematics MCAS, traditionally completed in one’s sophomore year, will complete them this year. Seniors may take a computer-based version in-person from Jan. 14 until Feb. 12. Both juniors and seniors will have an opportunity to complete the test later in the school year. 

Sophomores will take the Next-Gen computer-based version of the ELA and mathematics MCAS from May 18 until May 27. The physics MCAS for freshmen will be administered in June. 

School districts have flexibility in selecting when to administer MCAS tests based on dates provided by the DESE.

“Normally at the high school level we have exact dates and have to test on those dates. Because of COVID-19, [DESE] is trying to give schools more flexibility,” MCAS Coordinator Faye Cassell said. 

For all standardized tests, desks have been and will continue to be spaced six feet apart, rooms will be limited to 12 students and all test takers will wear masks for the entirety of the test.

Junior Jocelyn Peller said that the pandemic warrants a reassessment of priorities.

“I understand that it’s necessary for us to take it,” she said. “But I’m not sure if it’s practical at the moment.”

While the default is that all students will test in person, if a student is unable to attend in-person testing for the MCAS, they will work with the state on a case-by-case basis, Cassell said.

President of the Massachusetts Teacher Association Merrie Najimy said in a testimony in support of a moratorium on MCAS tests that she believes testing students this year would be detrimental.

“Administering MCAS will undermine our efforts to tend to the social and emotional wellness of our students,” she wrote. “The results of the MCAS exams will be meaningless. The damage done through administration of the tests, however, will be very real.”

Head of Guidance Dan Rubin said that standardized testing has and will not be equitable. 

“Standardized testing isn’t a fair entity. At this moment, some students are able to have greater access and other students are not based on their health circumstances,” he said. “There’s a lot of unfairness baked in.”

Junior Evan Zhu said the new timing of the PSAT/NMSQT, which was postponed to Jan. 26, is counterproductive. 

“The entire point of the PSAT is a practice SAT, and a lot of juniors that I know of already took the SAT,” he said.

Wong said that she is worried about the rising cases of COVID-19, but feels that standardized testing is important.

“If they’re following all the protocol and disinfecting everything, I wouldn’t worry about it because we are going to test ourselves a couple of times,” she said. “The COVID-19 situation is getting [worse] and that is increasing my worry, even with a new vaccine.”

Rubin said that the PSAT/NMSQT is typically offered to sophomores and juniors. This year, however, in order to comply with COVID-19 protocol, only juniors are able to take the PSAT/NMSQT.

The NMSQT administration is offering an alternative means of qualification this year. 

“For students [unable] to test due to the pandemic, there’s alternate entry into the National Merit competition by using a student’s SAT scores,” Rubin said.

Gagnon said that regardless of the state’s decisions about standardized testing, students and faculty are prepared for the changes.

“South [is] going to be fine,” he said. “We have a hard working group of teachers and students that I’m certain we’re going to be okay.”