Questions and Answers about the MCA in Mathematics, Reading and Science
What are the MCAs?
The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) are state tests in mathematics, reading and science that meet the requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). They are given every year to measure student performance against the Minnesota Academic Standards that specify what students in a particular grade should know and be able to do.
Why do we give these tests?
We use the MCAs to find out how well schools have aligned curriculum to and instructed students in the Minnesota Academic Standards in mathematics, reading and science. The mathematics and reading assessments are also used in federal school accountability measurements.
Schools use the information to improve classroom teaching and learning. Teachers and principals look for areas where students do well so they can reinforce the ways they teach these skills. They also look for areas that need improvement so they can increase instructional time or modify their instruction.
Who must take these tests?
The State of Minnesota and ESEA requires that all students in public schools participate in the statewide assessment program. Mathematics and reading tests are given in grades 3–8 and high school (students in grade 10 take the Reading MCA and students in grade 11 take the Mathematics MCA). The Science MCA is given to students in grades 5 and 8 and in the high school grade when they take a life science or biology course. With very few exceptions, all public school students in the above grades take the MCAs.
Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan may be eligible for accommodations. Some students may be eligible to take the MCA-Modified, an alternate assessment based on modified achievement standards in mathematics and reading. Other students with significant cognitive disabilities may be eligible to take the Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS), an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards in mathematics, reading and science. See the Alternate Assessment Eligibility Requirements on the MDE website for more information. (Go to School Support > Test Administration > Minnesota Tests. See link above.)
* See Updated Parent/Guardian Refusal Form
How can students prepare for the tests?
The “Test Preparation Suggestions for Parents and Teachers” handout is available on the MDE website with tips on content preparation, general test-taking strategies and using a calculator. View the Test Preparation handout on the MDE website. (Go to Just for Parents > Testing Information.)
Item samplers help students become familiar with the format of the test and provide examples of the types of questions that are on the test. You can find item samplers for each grade and subject on the Minnesota Assessments portal (www.mnstateassessments.org). View the item samplers on the Minnesota Assessments portal (see links below).
What does it take to pass the tests?
Students do not pass or fail the reading and mathematics tests given in grades 3–8 or the science tests given in grades 5, 8, and high school. Each student receives a score that falls in one of four achievement levels—Does Not Meet the Standards, Partially Meets the Standards, Meets the Standards and Exceeds the Standards.
The grade 10 Reading MCA and the grade 11 Mathematics MCA may be used to meet graduation assessment requirements. If students achieve Meets or Exceeds the Standards, they have met their graduation assessment requirement for that subject. View the Graduation Assessment Requirements Parent Fact Sheet on the MDE website for further information on graduation assessment requirements. (Go to Just for Parents > Testing Information.)
How are tests administered?
All grades of the Science MCA are administered online only. All grades of the Reading and Mathematics MCA are administered online or on paper, as determined by each school.
The Mathematics MCAs in grades 3–8 are online, adaptive tests, which means that every time a student answers a question, his or her response helps determine the next question the student will answer.
What skills are assessed by the MCA?
The MCAs measure student performance on the Minnesota Academic Standards. View the Minnesota Academic Standards on the MDE website. (Go to Educator Excellence > Standards, Curriculum and Instruction > K-12 Academic Standards.)
- The Reading MCA is aligned to the 2010 academic standards.
- The Mathematics MCA is aligned to the 2007 academic standards.
- The Science MCA is aligned to the 2009 academic standards.
How can I see the MCA results for my child, school and district?
Your school district will receive an individual student report for each child who takes the MCA and will provide this information to parents and guardians. This report shows your child’s overall score in each subject, as well as scores for specific skill areas within each subject. It also includes information about achievement level, comparisons to various groups and comparisons to the student’s performance in past years, when applicable.
School and district results are available in the Data for Parents and Educators section of the Data Center on the MDE website. Go to the Data for Parents and Educators section of the MDE website. (Go to Data Center > Data for Parents and Educators.)
Test Preparation Suggestions for Parents and Teachers
The following suggestions for parents and teachers will help students get ready for a statewide assessment:
- Students should take courses that address the Minnesota Academic
Standards. Most schools also make appropriate educational opportunities
available to students who are at risk for not succeeding on these tests.
- Share your enthusiasm and interest in reading, mathematics, and science with your children.
- Make sure students have had the opportunity to be become familiar with
the format of the test (see links below for item samplers).
- Encourage students to answer all test questions.
- Have students get a good night’s sleep and eat a nutritious breakfast before taking a test.
- Provide students with a study area.
- Encourage students to practice good study habits. Students should set aside time every day for homework.
- Read to students and encourage them to read to you.
- Have students try crossword puzzles and news quizzes in your local newspaper.
- Encourage students to read the daily newspaper and general interest magazines.
- Discuss the events and stories you read about in the newspaper.
- Encourage students to use mathematics every day. They can practice by
creating a grocery budget, explaining charts and graphs from newspaper
and magazine articles, dividing food portions, using rulers to measure
objects, measuring a recipe or adding prices on a shopping trip.
- Play games that involve numbers or computation.
- Encourage students to connect what they are learning in mathematics class to their
- hobbies, other classes and everyday life.
- Use science articles from news publications to show that science is an ongoing, active process.
- Have students use inquiry skills by participating in science competitions, fairs and other activities.
- Explore science outside the classroom – nature centers, zoos and science museums.
Using a Calculator
Talk to your child’s classroom teacher to find out how calculators are typically used in the classroom. Students can’t share calculators with other students during the Minnesota assessments or use any calculator manuals. You can get more information on using a calculator for testing from your school.