Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) and Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS)

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments - Series III (MCA-III) tests, also referred to as MCAs, are state and federal required assessments that are part of a Statewide Testing and Reporting/Accountability System. This is an educational accountability system to promote high standards of learning and success for all students.

MCAs are the state tests that help districts measure student progress toward proficiency or mastery of Minnesota's Academic Standards and meet the state and federal accountability requirements for reading and mathematics. Science assessments are also given but are not used as part of accountability calculations. Since spring 2015, all MCAs assessments are administered online.

The primary purpose of the MCA-IIIs is to determine student proficiency on grade-level concepts, however, the tests for each grade level, as well as the strands within a particular grade level, are not equal in difficulty. These tests provide the district with beneficial information regarding students' strengths and weaknesses in order to make important decisions about curriculum and instruction. This better enables the district to monitor student achievement and to prepare students for graduation and success beyond high school.

Alternate Assessment

The MCAs do not appropriately measure the knowledge and skills of a small number of students with significant cognitive disabilities related to grade-level content standards. Therefore, to ensure that all students in public schools are fully included in state accountability systems and have access to challenging instruction linked to state content standards, an additional assessment is administered to qualifying students.

The Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS) is the alternate assessment for the MCA-IIIs and is administered to students with the most significant cognitive delays meeting set criteria. This test is administered in math, reading and science.

MCAs in Reading, Mathematics and Science

For all three subject areas in which the MCA is administered, questions range in difficulty according to cognitive levels aligned to Webb's Depth of Knowledge model. Questions are aligned to level 1 (recall), level 2 (skill/concept), and level 3 (strategic thinking). As grade levels advance, the percentages of each of these types of questions change.

MCA-III Reading

MCA in reading is an adaptive test (at the passage level) given in grades 3-8 and 10. The test consists of both fiction and nonfiction passages with multiple choice question types, as well as technology enhanced items.
Reading strands are as follows:

1. Literature
         a. Key ideas and details
         b. Craft and structure
2. Informational text
         a. Key ideas and details
         b. Craft and structure
         c. integration of knowledge and ideas


The mathematics MCA is an adaptive test (at the item level) given to students in grades 3-8 and 11. Students are asked to respond to a variety of question types, including multiple types of technology-enhanced items.

All 8th grade students in MN are required to complete Algebra I to meet the grade-level standards in math. This also helps to prepare them to meet the high school requirement of an Algebra II course and provides an opportunity for advanced math courses to be taken.

Math strands are as follows:

Grade 3-8
1. Number and operation
2. Algebra
3. Data analysis
4. Geometry & measurement

Grade 11
1. Algebra
2. Data analysis & probability
3. Geometry & measurement

MCA-III Science

The MCA-III science test is given to students in grades 5, 8 and after the completion of biology in high school. The test consists of multiple choice questions and technology-enhanced items.

Science strands are as follows at grades 5 & 8:

1. Nature of science and engineering
2. Physical science
3. Earth and space science
4. Life science

Science strands are as follows at HS:

1. Nature of science and engineering
2. Life science

The MCA-III assessments are administered in the spring and are untimed so each student can spend as little or much time as needed to complete the assessment. The estimated time that is taken for students to complete the MCA assessments is 2-3 hours per assessment. The estimated time it takes students to complete the MTAS assessments is 45-90 minutes for reading, and 30-60 minutes for math and science.

Results of the MCA/MTAS are available to the public the end of July. Results are mailed home to parents/guardians late in the summer/early in the fall.

Additional resources:

Parent Fact Sheet from Minnesota Department of Education
Frequently asked questions and Why test results matter (Minnesota Department of Education)
Item Samplers and other testing resources

For Additional information about the MCA you may go the Minnesota Department of Education website.