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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS): Two districts' perspectives

Kirsten A Esposito, Johnson & Wales University


The purpose of this study was to comprehensively explore and describe the phenomena of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as viewed from the perspective of key stakeholders, i.e. students, faculty, administration, parents and community members in two suburban middle class school districts. The conceptual framework was based on school reform, standards-based education, high stakes testing, No Child Left Behind, and local impacts generating rich descriptions drawn from the various stakeholders' viewpoints. Themes reveal common and/or diverse elements of the MCAS phenomena from the perspective of the two participating districts. Qualitative measures were employed. A representative purposive sample comprised of key stakeholders in the MCAS process was utilized. The researcher conducted a multiple analysis on information observed from these informants using an open-ended, unstructured interview tool. The interview questions were designed to elicit various perceptions and experiences related to the utility and impact of the MCAS process. The problem of failing students, failing schools, a failing educational system, the implementation of a high stakes test, and the reduction in financial funding by the state prompted this investigation into MCAS. Nine themes emerged from the results of the study, and a model was generated to display the function and meaning of MCAS in the participating districts. The themes are: School Improvement Plan, Curriculum Alignment, Teaching and Learning, Teaching to the Test, Student and Parent Ownership, Data Driven Reform, Stress, Remediation, and Leadership Beliefs. Findings also revealed the importance of leadership and attitudes toward systemic change, the increase in ownership in a high stakes model for accountability, associated anxieties with the test, an alternative view of “Teaching to the Test”, the usefulness of a School Improvement Plan to drive and identify at-risk students, programmatic changes, and internal factors within schools. Recommendations included the need for curriculum alignment, the quest for visionary leaders, and how data analysis can impact instruction, professional development, accountability and assessment in schools. Suggestions for further study and actions incorporated alternate leveling of courses for remediation opportunities, test anxiety, and TQM systems in schools.

Subject Area

School administration|Educational evaluation

Recommended Citation

Esposito, Kirsten A, "Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS): Two districts' perspectives" (2004). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3124557.