Massachusetts Education Commissioner Recommends MCAS-PARCC Hybrid

massachusetts-state-flagMassachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester announced today he recommends the state use a “Next Generation MCAS” that would be first used in spring of 2017 and use items from PARCC and the current MCAS along with items specifically designed for the state assessment.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on his recommendation at their next meeting on November 17.

The commissioner’s memo calls for the state to:

  • Award a new MCAS contract to include a next-generation assessment for English language arts and math using both PARCC items and items specific to Massachusetts;
  • Commit to computer-based state assessments with the goal of implementing this statewide by spring 2019;
  • Remain a member of the PARCC consortium in order to have access to high-quality assessment development while sharing costs with other states and to be able to compare next-generation MCAS results with those of other states’ assessments; and
  • Convene groups of K-12 teachers, higher education faculty and assessment experts to advise ESE on the content, length and scheduling of statewide tests; testing policies for students with disabilities and for English language learners; the requirements for the high school competency determination (currently the 10th grade MCAS); and the timeline for reinstating a history and social science test.

It should be noted that Mitchell Chester serves as chair on the governing board of PARCC so to say he has conflict of interest here would be an understatement.  The fact that he’s willing to forgo the adoption of the entire PARCC assessment shows the amount of pressure the grassroots is placing upon Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s administration.

The Pioneer Institute which is located in Massachusetts responded to the news:

We applaud the Baker administration for proposing that Massachusetts retain its academic independence and testing autonomy, but the Commonwealth should reject any further participation in the PARCC consortium.

MCAS has served Massachusetts very well for nearly two decades. The test and the pre-Common Core standards were the key to Massachusetts’ leadership position that was forged by the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act and demonstrated by historic gains on national and international tests.

As its name suggests, “Next-Generation MCAS” should largely be based on the pre-2011 MCAS and, where appropriate, include questions and modes from other models such as PARCC. This will provide continuity and foster accountability by allowing performance to be measured over time.

Next-Generation MCAS should also use questions developed by Massachusetts educators and academics, and reinstate the practice of releasing all or nearly all of the questions after tests are administered to help classroom teachers shape instruction.

As Next-Generation MCAS is being developed, it is imperative that both the 10th-grade MCAS and the state English and math standards be restored to their pre-Common Core academic quality. The previous standards and MCAS made Massachusetts the envy of the country and the only state that truly is internationally competitive.

The five-year Common Core-PARCC detour needs to be abandoned. It has damaged the standing of the Commonwealth’s students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and undermined the academic quality needed to perpetuate the ideals of our democracy, deliver true equity to underserved students, and compete in the global economy.