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Principals' perceptions of the MCAS: The impact of high stakes testing in Massachusetts

Darryll Andrew McCall, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The primary goal of this study was to investigate principals' perceptions of the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the “high stakes” nature of the exam. Twelfth grade students who have not passed either the English Language Arts or Math sections of the MCAS will not receive a diploma starting in the 2003. A decade after the signing of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, educators are still grappling with the ever-changing educational landscape and how to best increase the amount of learning occurring in schools. The MCAS serves as the formal educational assessment system in Massachusetts. This qualitative study involved individually interviewing twelve middle/elementary school principals from Massachusetts, all of whom had at least ten years of experience as a building administrator. The principals were categorized by MCAS results as well as school demographic settings (urban, suburban or rural) in order to provide a representative sampling similar to that found in the state. An interview guide with a specific set of twelve predetermined questions was utilized for the semi-structured interviews. The first five questions were previously used in D. F. Brown's study of principals' perceptions in Illinois, New York and Tennessee in 1993. The remaining questions were geared toward eliciting responses specific to the MCAS. Responses from the participants were analyzed using an inductive process that allowed themes to emerge from the data. Findings from the data analysis included three themes: principals from higher performing schools spoke favorably about the MCAS, principals from all categories were concerned over the public release of the scores, and finally principals from lower scoring schools felt that there is too much pressure to improve their MCAS scores. Further analysis of the data included a comparison of themes from this study with that of Brown's 1993 study.

Subject Area

School administration|Educational evaluation

Recommended Citation

McCall, Darryll Andrew, "Principals' perceptions of the MCAS: The impact of high stakes testing in Massachusetts" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3078707.