Brown School students at their desks

Assessment Practices

The Somerville Public Schools has a comprehensive system of assessing student progress that includes teacher developed classroom assessments, quarterly grade reports, local common assessments, and statewide standardized tests including MCAS and ACCESS. Assessment data is used to individualize instruction in the classroom, make decisions about student needs, and improve instructions across grades and department.

Statewide Standardized Tests

MCAS: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) regularly assesses student proficiency in Reading, English Language Arts, Math and Science/Technology using the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The elementary MCAS tests are intended to help schools and teachers know if students have mastered the content required to succeed in high school. The statewide test schedule is available through the DESE.

Opting Out of MCAS

As the Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester has communicated,  there is no formal process for students to opt-out of MCAS participation. Since the Somerville Public Schools is mandated to administer these tests, our administration provides school principals with guidance on ways to balance this requirement with a sensitive treatment of children who may not participate. To be clear, however, we want to encourage all students to participate in the state testing program, believing it provides valuable data to support their learning. Likewise, it is important that we point out to parents that their child’s electing not to participate in testing may have negative state accountability consequences for the school and District. At the same time, however, we respect the rights of parents who, based on what they believe is the best interest of their child, may elect to not participate in MCAS.

Parents should place the opt-out request, in writing to their school principal, in advance of the testing date. The request is to be submitted annually.

The following are the administrative guidelines provided to principals and test proctors:

  • Principal will communicate with proctors about any students in the sessions they will be supervising who are planning to refuse testing based on parental communication.
  • These students will attend school on testing day and will be seated in the testing room as they would normally, with their class. In order to minimize distraction, it is recommended that teacher/proctor seat the anticipated opt out students in the back of the room.
  • Identified students will be given a computer or test paper materials, depending on the grade. No special effort will be made to “encourage” these students to complete the test or to apply any pressure to work on the test. They do not have to open the laptop or log onto the system. The proctor will know ahead of time if the student’s parent has elected to opt out of testing, and will remind the student of this. If they are not taking the test, they are not allowed to use the computer for other purposes.
  • If, after 15 minutes (shorter time for younger students, as appropriate) students have not completed any work on the test, they can take out reading material or other work. They will remain with the class for the test administration period, unless in the judgment of the proctor they are a “disruption” (per the DESE direction). In this case, students may be moved to another supervised location. The test administrator’s judgment is critical to maintaining appropriate testing environment in strict observance of all established regulations and testing protocols as set forth in the Administration Manual.
  • Per DESE direction, students will be marked absent from testing. This will be keyed into the Pearson system by the administrator. If it’s a paper exam, they will be marked absent by default as a blank test booklet will be submitted. Please note that "absent" from testing is not the same as absent from school; they will be present for school purposes.
  • Students who do not complete an exam under these guidelines will not be required to return for a “retake” session.

ACCESS for ELLs: The Somerville Public Schools also tests English Language Learners on their oral and written English proficiency using the Commonwealth's  ACCESS for ELLs (ACCESS) . ACCESS test results are used by the District to determine if a student continues to need Sheltered English Immersion Program or other academic support services to help them master English.

Local Assessment

Providing teachers with "real time" data on how their students are progressing towards their grade level standards is the reason for the Somerville Public Schools' comprehensive local assessment program called STAR. Data from STAR Reading and STAR Math testing for students in Grades 2 - 8 three times per year (fall, winter and spring) allows teachers to better understand individual student's mastery of lessons and concepts so they can adjust instruction accordingly. In addition, we administer the DIBELS assessment three times a year in grades K-3 which provides teachers with data on early literacy skills such as letter recognition, sound awareness and fluency.

View a sample STAR report.

For more information about STAR, see the parent brochure at:

Helping your child with test-taking

Visit the U.S. Department of Education website for tips on ways you can help your child with test-taking.