A message from the
Massachusetts Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education

January 8, 2021
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News from DESE Student Assessment Services

For All Schools

1. Updates to MCAS for January and Spring 2021
On Tuesday, January 5, the Commissioner announced changes to the January and spring 2021 MCAS administrations as described in this Special Edition Student Assessment Update. As described in the announcement, the 2021 special high school MCAS administration will not take place in January as scheduled, and the Commissioner will recommend to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the class of 2021 be eligible for a modified competency determination for ELA and mathematics. Additionally, testing times will be significantly reduced in each subject for the spring 2021 grades 3–8 MCAS administration (the high school testing times will remain the same).

As a result of the Commissioner’s announcement, Pearson has disabled further changes to the January test administration and will remove it from PearsonAccess Next (PAN) on January 14. To preserve the student registration data that your staff updated during the pre-administration windows, the Department will archive the SR/PNP for use on future MCAS administrations, as appropriate. At this time, no additional action is required.
ELA and mathematics testing for students in grades 10 and 11 is expected to take place this spring, and further guidance on the spring administrations for all grades and subjects will be issued in the coming weeks. Please contact the Office of Student Assessment Services with any questions (see contact information in the footer of this update).  
2. Passwords for the MCAS Service Center Secure Website
Due to circumstances this year, the 2021 MCAS Service Center passwords will not be mailed to schools or districts. Instead, memos have been posted to the MCAS 2021 Data folder in DropBox Central, which is located in the Department’s Security Portal. Please note that this is a correction to the previous update, which stated incorrectly that the passwords would be posted to the MCAS 2020 Data folder.
3. ACCESS for ELLs
a. ACCESS for ELLs Test Materials
The initial delivery of ACCESS for ELLs test materials should have arrived in schools on or about January 4. Additional test materials, if needed, may be ordered within the January 4–May 14, 2021 window. Schools should check the initial shipment to determine whether additional materials are needed prior to placing an additional materials order.  Schools should make every effort to include all additional order requests in a single additional materials order.

b. ACCESS Test Participation for Provisionally Screened Students
Please see the December 11 EL Assessment Update: Preparing for Testing for information regarding the ACCESS for ELLs participation of students who were provisionally screened after March 2020 for their English language proficiency but have not yet been formally rescreened.

 c. ACCESS for ELLs Useful Resources
Schools are reminded to review the following resources in preparation for the 2021 ACCESS for ELLs and Alternate ACCESS for ELLs administrations.
 d. Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Redesign Planned
Over the next two years, through its Advancing ALTELLA project, WIDA will redesign the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs assessment for English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities. This will include:
  • redesigning the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs tests
  • adding a Kindergarten Alternate ACCESS test
  • developing a screener that identifies students to participate in Alternate ACCESS
  • developing test items that will assess the Language of Social Studies
  • developing more than one Alternate ACCESS test form
  • developing training videos and certification quizzes
WIDA invites educators who work with this English learner population to sign up to receive project information and updates through the Advancing ALTELLA e-news mailing list.
4. MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt)
a. Change to MCAS-Alt Submission Date
Due to the impact of the pandemic this school year, the Department has extended the MCAS-Alt submission date from April 1 to Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Additional instructions to submit the MCAS-Alt will be available in the spring.
This deadline extension includes the submission of MCAS Grade-Level and Competency portfolios, which will also be due on May 5. More information about MCAS Grade-Level and Competency portfolios is available here

b. Order MCAS-Alt Materials by January 15
Principals may order MCAS-Alt submission materials January 4–15 using the process outlined below. Note that ordering these materials is separate from the student registration process for MCAS testing. Please verify the number of students taking the MCAS-Alt in each grade. Then, follow the steps below:
  1. Log in to the MCAS Service Center and select MCAS Alternate Assessment.
  2. Click on Enrollment Verification.
  3. New for 2021, your MCAS password was provided in the MCAS 2021 Data folder in DropBox Central in the Department’s Security Portal at
  4. Confirm your contact and school information by following the onscreen prompts.
  5. Order materials for students taking the MCAS-Alt in each grade.
  6. Click the Submit button.
  7. After submission, a confirmation page will be available onscreen that you may print for your records.
c. MCAS-Alt Portfolios-in-Progress: Register Teachers Now
Please encourage teachers who are conducting the MCAS-Alt to sign-up for a virtual portfolio review session in January. Educators may sign up for a single one-hour session between 8:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on any of the available dates. Training specialists will conduct remote Zoom sessions with small groups of educators in virtual breakout rooms. Educators should prepare specific questions related to their portfolio(s) ahead of time. See this flyer for the dates of the reviews, including sessions for educators completing Competency and Grade-Level portfolios.
For High Schools

1. MCAS Performance Appeals Deadlines
MCAS Cohort Appeals: Next Deadline for Submission
MCAS cohort appeals for January must be received by the Department by January 8 using the new online application process. Students who have been unable to meet CD requirements by passing the required high school tests may be eligible for an MCAS Performance Appeal, an alternative pathway to meeting the CD requirements. Please review the step-by-step guide for the online application process. Other MCAS Performance Appeals information can be found here.
MCAS Portfolio Appeals: New Submission Date
The deadline for submitting MCAS Portfolio Appeals this spring has changed from April 1 to Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Results will be available on or about May 21. More information about MCAS Portfolio Appeals is available here.

Other Important Dates

Table with category, date(s), and item. ACCESS for ELLs. January 4 - May 14, Order additional materials, if necessary. January 7 - May 20, ACCESS for ELLs test sessions.
MCAS Service Center
for logistical support, including tech support for PearsonAccess Next and TestNav

Phone: 800-737-5103
Student Assessment Services
for policy questions, including student participation

Phone: 781-338-3625
Schedule a Call with Technology Support Specialists
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