Location:
EDUCATION - TESTING;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations; Background;

OLR Research Report


February 28, 2011

 

2011-R-0091

CONNECTICUT AND MASSACHUSETTS
HIGH SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT TESTS

By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director

You asked whether the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) would be suitable for a high school graduation test, especially as compared to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test.

SUMMARY

Although the Connecticut and Massachusetts high school assessments have many similarities, the fact that the CAPT is not designed to be a high school graduation test, as the MCAS test is, means that it is not suitable for that use in its current form, according to Barbara Beaudin, associate commissioner at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Both the CAPT and the MCAS test are statewide tests administered to public school 10th graders. Both are custom-designed, criterion-referenced tests, which means they are designed to test students' knowledge in various subjects according to state-adopted educational standards and curriculum frameworks. Both tests assess student's performance in math and science. The CAPT also tests students' reading and writing skills while the MCAS tests students in English language arts and history and the social sciences. Both states use their tests to assess school and school district performance as well as that of individual students.

The major difference between the two tests is their purpose. Massachusetts requires students to achieve a minimum score on the math, English, and one of the science subject areas of the MCAS in order to graduate from high school. Connecticut, while it requires school districts to include CAPT performance in determining the skills and knowledge needed for graduation, prohibits using CAPT scores as the sole graduation criterion.

The different purposes of the two tests affect their validity as graduation tests, Beaudin says. In order to use the CAPT as a graduation test, the state would have to assure that the test content was sufficient and valid to measure whether a student was likely to have the skills and knowledge needed to graduate at the end of the 12th grade. In addition, the CAPT goal standard, which is currently set very high, would likely need to be adjusted to enable a higher percentage of students to be successful. Such modifications could possibly be incorporated into the next generation of the CAPT scheduled for implementation in 2015 but, according to Beaudin, they would add to its cost.

CAPT

The CAPT is a statewide test administered every spring to all 10th graders in Connecticut's public schools. It is designed to measure both what students know in various subjects and what they can do with what they know. CAPT is a custom test aligned with Connecticut's Common Core Standards and curriculum frameworks, which establish goals and standards for student knowledge in various subjects at different grade levels.

The CAPT is not a high school graduation test. By law, a student's performance on the CAPT cannot be used as the sole criterion for determining whether he or she graduates from high school. Any student who reaches the state goal on any part of the test receives a certificate of mastery in that subject. Certificates of mastery must be included in official high school transcripts and become part of a student's permanent record. Students who fail to reach the mastery goal on any part of the CAPT may retake those parts annually until they turn age 21 (CGS 10-14n). School districts must include CAPT results as a factor in determining whether students have the basic skill and knowledge needed for high school graduation (CGS 10-223a).

In addition to assessing individual students' performance, the state also uses the CAPT to meet school and school district accountability requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state educational accountability law (CGS 10-223e).

The CAPT assesses student performance in four major content areas: math, reading, writing, and science. Students who complete the CAPT receive overall scale scores in each of the four content areas. Scale scores allow performance comparisons across years for each subject, even though the test questions change annually. The scale runs from 100 to 400. Score ranges are grouped into five performance levels, the top two of which are considered the “goal range” (see Table 1). A student must achieve the state goal in a particular area to receive a certificate of mastery.

Table 1: CAPT Performance Ranges

Content

Level 1

Below Basic

Level 2

Basic

Level 3 Proficient

GOAL RANGE

Level 4

Goal

Level 5

Advanced

Math

100-190

191-220

221-259

260-289

290-400

Science

100-189

190-214

215-264

265-294

295-400

Reading

100-173

174-204

205-250

251-282

283-400

Writing

100-181

182-209

210-249

250-285

286-400

MCAS

Like the CAPT, the MCAS is a statewide test administered in the 10th grade. It is custom-designed to measure student performance based on state standards contained in state curriculum frameworks. MCAS measures student performance in math, English language arts, science, and history and social sciences. Like Connecticut, Massachusetts also uses MCAS to measure school and school district performance for accountability purposes.

MCAS is considered a “high-stakes” test because, unlike the CAPT, it is a high school graduation test. In addition to meeting other requirements, Massachusetts students must perform well enough on the MCAS tests to receive a “competency determination” (CD) in English language arts and math in order to receive a high school diploma. Starting with the Class of 2010, students must also earn a CD in one of four high school Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) subjects included in the test (biology, chemistry, introductory physics, and technology/engineering).

MCAS reports scores in each content area on a scale running from 200-280, with 240 being the minimum proficiency level. Starting with the Class of 2010, in order to graduate, students must either (1) score at least 240 on the math and English language arts tests (see Table 2) or (2) score at least 220 on both tests and complete the requirements of an educational proficiency plan. Students must also achieve a minimum score of at least 220 in one of the four STE subjects.

Students who fail to achieve a CD in a required subject can take retests for an unlimited period, even after their scheduled graduation. In addition, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education may, at the request of a student's school and school district, allow a student who, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, cannot demonstrate the requisite knowledge and skills for graduation through the MCAS to demonstrate competency in one or more areas through an alternate means.

Table 2: MCAS Performance Levels

Performance Level

General Description

Scale Scores*

Advanced

Demonstrates comprehensive and in-depth understanding of rigorous subject matter, and provide sophisticated solutions to complex problems

260-280

Proficient

Students at this level demonstrate a solid understanding of challenging subject matter and solve a wide variety of problems

240-258

Needs Improvement

Students demonstrate a partial understanding of subject matter and solve some simple problems

220-238

Failing

Students at this level demonstrate a minimal understanding of subject matter and do not solve simple problems

200-218

* Note: All MCAS scale scores end in an even number.

USING CAPT AS A GRADUATION TEST

According to Barbara Beaudin, associate commissioner at the Connecticut State Department of Education, the CAPT would need to be redesigned before it could be used as a high school graduation test like the MCAS. Although CAPT and MCAS have similar content and are given to students in the same grade, the two tests were designed to serve different purposes.

The purpose of the MCAS test is to determine if students are ready to graduate from high school. Thus, the 10th grade test determines whether a student is on the right trajectory to achieve the skills and knowledge he or she needs to graduate from high school after the 12th grade and be successful in employment or post-secondary education. The CAPT, on the other hand, assesses what students know in the 10th grade.

Beaudin says that the higher the stakes for a test, the more rigorously designed it must be for its intended purpose. Changing the CAPT to a graduation test would require reassessing its content to assure it was broad enough to validly measure whether a student will be competent to graduate after 12th grade. It would also require the state to either reset the existing CAPT goal standard or to establish a separate high school exit standard. She noted that 29% of Connecticut 10th graders met all four goal standards on the CAPT in 2010 (50% in math and 46% in reading). In the same year, 75% of Massachusetts 10th graders met the MCAS proficient standard in math and 78% met the standard in English language arts. In addition, Connecticut would have to establish alternate ways for a student to demonstrate that he or she meets the graduation standard as Massachusetts does for those who cannot pass the MCAS after multiple attempts.

Beaudin said that the next generation of the CAPT test is scheduled for implementation in 2015. State mastery tests are redesigned and updated every five or six years to ensure they are still aligned with the required standards and curriculum content. The next generation of the CAPT could be redesigned as a graduation test, but such a redesign would entail additional cost.

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