Sophomores prepare for the fast-approaching English MCAS


Credit: Nadya Chase

Sophomores and sophomore English teachers prepare for the upcoming English MCAS. Although students have a tendency to get worried before high stakes standardized tests, English teachers are confident that the sophomores are prepared to do well on the test. “I don’t think that anyone should be anxious about [the test],” English teacher Martha Gowetski said. “You should go in, do your best and be proud of your work.”

Nadya Chase and Katya Luzarraga

As spring begins to slowly peel away the layers of snow, it welcomes the kickoff of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing. For many, MCAS is one of the most dreaded times of the year. However, Wayland High School English teachers assure students that the skills they have developed through English class each year will provide a smooth testing experience.

Sophomores will complete the initial part of the English Language Arts MCAS during the first three blocks of their schedule on Tuesday, March 22. They will then complete the second half of the English MCAS on Wednesday, March 23. On the second day of testing, the class rotation will switch from the regular H day period rotation to a rotation starting with period two as first block, then period seven, period eight, period six, period three and ending with period four. This will ensure that the same classes are not affected by MCAS testing. On testing days, students without academic accommodations will be grouped alphabetically in assigned classrooms within the English wing.

On testing days, students will need to bring a fully charged laptop and their laptop chargers to school. If students do not finish during the allotted amount of time, they will have the rest of the school day to finish the test in the lecture hall.

“Students [will have to] stay [in the testing classroom] until the allotted session time is done,” English teacher Martha Gowetski said. “If they finish early, they are allowed to read or write, but they cannot use their computer or phone. It’s part of the test security because every kid in the state is taking the test at the same time, so we can’t just dismiss kids.”

For some students, having the English MCAS online will prove easier due to the efficiency of typing and the familiarity of using a laptop.

“I think [that having MCAS online is] better because in the past when I’ve had to do [standardized tests] on paper, my essays weren’t as good,” sophomore Luke Pyhtila said. “You just type faster than you can write, so I personally prefer it on the computer.”

Some were concerned about the effect of COVID-19 on MCAS testing, as many subjects were not able to cover a full year’s worth of material. However, the English department is confident that students have been taught all of the necessary skills without drawbacks from the pandemic.

“Last year, we had to scale [the usual sophomore English curriculum] back because of COVID-19, but I feel like we’re back [to normal now],” Gowetski said. “Because we’re skill-based and not content-based, we’re not seeing what some people call ‘learning loss.’ Across the board, students’ writing is much stronger, and there’s a stronger sense of voice and ownership.”

Students and teachers alike share the concern that MCAS is solely a disruption to the normal school day that causes unnecessary stress within students. Many also believe that MCAS does not have benefits for students in the long run, as their scores do not count as a grade.

“I am a real skeptic of its usefulness as a high stakes measurement of student learning,” English teacher Peter Galalis said. “Honestly, high stakes testing as a way to evaluate schools and students is pretty outdated and outvoted. It shows that all you’re really evaluating or all you’re really finding out from the test is that the affluent, mostly white suburbs do really well, and the more diverse, less affluent urban districts do worse. So, I don’t see how that’s a useful measurement of student learning or school progress.”

Unlike other tests students are used to, the English MCAS is a skill-based test rather than a content-based one. Because of this, many students believe that there is no way to prepare for what will be on the test. However, English teachers are confident that students already have the fundamental skills to take the test from the content they have learned in English class each year.

“What we do to prepare for MCAS is English class every day,” Galalis said. “I don’t think of it in terms of ‘now we’re going to stop normal business to prepare for the test.’ The test is allegedly supposed to test your reading and writing skills, and that’s what we do every day.”

English teachers will also make sure to review and prepare their classes with any ideas they believe will be beneficial to know during the test. Some topics English teachers may focus on in the next few weeks to prepare students for MCAS include grammar, sentence structure, reading comprehension and more.

“I’ll do two days of preparation because my curriculum already involves so many of the skills asked in MCAS,” Gowetski said. “What I’m more concerned with is making sure [students] understand how to take the test and recognize what the question is really asking.”

Many sophomores agree that English class each year has prepared them well for MCAS. Some students plan to prepare for the test by completing practice essays or reading comprehension questions while some do not plan to prepare for the test at all.

“I don’t think [English teachers have] ever really [specifically] prepared us,” sophomore Sierra Dale said. “[The preparation for the test is] just a cumulative of all the techniques English teachers have taught me in the past, so I think I have all the skills that are needed from past English experiences.”

Overall, English teachers are confident in their students’ abilities, and they advise students to try their best and not to panic. Students have learned all of the necessary skills throughout their years of English class and should think of the MCAS as an opportunity to proudly display their abilities.

“If any students are feeling stressed out about MCAS, they should take a deep breath and remind themselves that everything they do in English class every day is preparation for the test,” Galalis said. “They’re more than ready.”