- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts’ education commissioner called Thursday for the state to create a new standardized test for public school students, one that would combine elements of the current assessment with another that is closely aligned with federal Common Core standards.

The recommendation by Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, appears to seek out a middle ground after two years of debate over whether to replace MCAS - short for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System - with PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC was developed by a national consortium that includes Massachusetts.

MCAS has been used since 1998, and passage of the exam’s English language and math portions became a high school graduation requirement in 2003. A science and technology requirement was added in 2010.

Under Chester’s plan, the state would transition to what he calls a next-generation MCAS that would be given for the first time in 2017. The new hybrid test, taken on computers rather than with paper and pencil, would become a graduation requirement for the Class of 2019.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education scheduled a vote Tuesday on the recommendation.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the proposed new test - which he and others quickly dubbed MCAS 2.0 - would allow the state to keep its educational independence and build on a record of strong student performance in Massachusetts.

“We set our own terms, we build our own test and we do what we think makes sense for the kids in the commonwealth,” said Baker.

PARCC is aligned with Common Core standards that have been adopted in about 40 states but have become a rallying point for critics who say the standards interfere with states’ abilities to shape their own educational blueprints. Common Core supporters say the curriculum better prepares students for college and 21st century careers.

Massachusetts would remain a member of the PARCC consortium under the commissioner’s plan.

Chester said MCAS has served the state well but has reached a point of “diminishing returns,” and that he had heard too many complaints through the years of schools merely teaching students to succeed on the test.

While he believed PARCC would improve on MCAS and set a higher bar for academic achievement, Chester told reporters in a conference call that he also came to believe that simply dropping MCAS in favor of PARCC “would be giving away our authority to make decisions on our testing program.”

Massachusetts gave PARCC a trial run to help determine if it should replace MCAS as the state’s primary educational assessment tool and graduation requirement for high school students.

In 2015, the state gave school districts the option of administering PARCC or MCAS to students in grades 3-8. Officials said 54 percent of districts statewide chose PARCC. All 10th graders were still required to take MCAS.

Results showed that students in grades 3-8 who took PARCC last spring were, on average, less likely to perform well on that test than those who took the traditional MCAS exams, officials said.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which strongly advocated for PARCC, applauded Chester’s call for doing away with the current MCAS exam but was unclear what the replacement would look like.

“If it’s going to be PARCC customized for Massachusetts, that is something we could support,” said Linda Noonan, the alliance’s executive director. “But if it were starting from scratch, with a new test, that really raises a host of new questions.”

Among those unanswered questions, she added, was the cost of developing the new exam.

The Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank that opposes Common Core, said it was pleased by the decision to keep “testing autonomy,” but called on Massachusetts to end its participation with the PARCC consortium.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide