MCAS Open-Response Questions

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The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, is an exam that tests Massachusetts public school students on the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework learning standards. The test is intended to reflect the performance of students, schools and districts in the state. Five types of questions appear in different disciplines and sections of the MCAS: multiple-choice, writing prompts, short-answer, short-response and open-response. Open-response questions appear on all MCAS tests except for the English Language Arts Composition test.

1 Open-Response Objectives

Open-response questions ask students to create original answers. The questions prompt students to think more deeply about information that is presented and formulate their own responses rather than choosing from existing answers on the page. Their answers should provide more information and supporting evidence than is necessary for a short-answer question. Students write one to two paragraphs and create a chart, table, diagram, illustration or graph where necessary. Open-response questions help determine if a child has mastered particular skills, because the child is not able to simply guess from a list of options.

2 Open-Response Scoring

Open-response questions are scored using a guide that specifies the skills that should be demonstrated in the response. "Anchor papers" are also used in scoring. These are samples of previous student responses at each score point for reference. Open-response answers are graded on a scale of zero to four points, except Mathematics Grade 3 open responses, which are graded on a scale of zero to two points. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are not scored for these types of questions. Scorers are concerned with the content of the answer rather than formalities and technical writing rules. For a top score, student work must be clear, complete and accurate. The response must answer the actual question and include supporting details from the text, where appropriate.

3 Math Open-Response Tips

Math open-response questions can be difficult for some students because they require explanations. Some children may be skilled in math yet still have trouble articulating their approach to problem solving or the method they used to find a particular answer. Certain questions may call for breaking down work into a series of steps, which can also be challenging for children who don't think or work in this organized way. The Newton Math Tutors website offers some tips for preparing for these questions, such as reading the problem twice, rephrasing it and circling key words. Students should include words or phrases from the actual question in their responses. They should always reread an open-response answer to see if what they have written is clear and easy to follow.

4 Reading Open-Response Tips

English language arts open-response questions require children to respond to a piece of writing. The questions are meant to assess specific reading skills. Students read a passage and then answer an accompanying prompt. They must answer the question using evidence from the text. The answers should be clear and contain appropriate supporting details. To prepare, students should practice skills such as comparing and contrasting, paraphrasing and analyzing the main idea in a piece of text. They should practice explaining information in their own words and underlining or circling important information while reading.

Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.