MCA Parent Fact Sheet

Questions and Answers about the MCAs 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 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 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 MDE website for more information.

How can students prepare for the tests?

The 'Test Preparation Suggestions for Parents and Teachers' handout is available on MDE's website with tips on content preparation, general test-taking strategies, and using a calculator.

View the Test Preparation handout and Fact Sheets on the MDE website. Item samplers are available to help students become familiar with the format of the test and provide examples of the types of questions that are on the test.  

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.  

How are tests administered?

All MCA tests are administered online, with the exception of some students with IEP or 504 accommodations. The Mathematics MCA in grades 3–8 is an adaptive test, so that every time a student answers a question, his or her response determines 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. 

•The Reading MCA is aligned to the 2012-2013 academic standards. 
•The Mathematics MCA is aligned to the 2010-2011 academic standards. 
•The Science MCA is aligned to the 2011-2012 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 on the MDE website. 

For more information, contact:
Statewide Testing [email protected]
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, MN 55113-4266