Scores suggest state MCAS exams are less accurate than federal PARCC tests

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As state education officials weigh whether to fully embrace a new assessment program reflecting the national Common Core curriculum, preliminary data released Monday shows students taking the new test appeared less likely to hit or exceed grade-level standards.

Advocates for the PARCC exam, offered by some Massachusetts schools this year as part of a two-year trial, said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s statewide test results support their belief that PARCC is a more accurate measure of a student’s capability to succeed in college or a career than the existing MCAS test.

“We are in a transition from a test that has measured basic skills to one that measures college and career readiness, one that measures preparation,” said Linda Noonan, the executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

Spring 2015 MCAS scores and results from students who took the PARCC exam on a computer were scheduled to be presented during a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting Monday evening. The board is expected to vote in November on whether the state should switch from MCAS to PARCC tests.

The two tests are scored differently, but overall results show that students in the third through eighth grades were less likely to score in the “meeting expectations” range on the computerized PARCC tests than they were to score “proficient” or “advanced” on the MCAS.

The only exception was fourth grade, where 48 percent of students scored at those levels on both math tests. On the fourth grade English tests, 57 percent reached “meeting expectations” on the PARCC, and 54 percent earned “advanced” or “proficient” on the MCAS.

Test scores out Monday do not include students who took the PARCC exam using paper and pencil. School districts chose which test to administer in spring 2015, and those selecting PARCC had the option of whether to conduct the tests on computers. Roughly 59 percent of the students who took PARCC tests did so on a computer, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Results for students taking the PARCC with paper and pencil are expected to be released later this fall, as are MCAS results broken down by individual district and school.

“This early report on PARCC results is preliminary and incomplete and therefore cannot yet be directly compared to this year’s MCAS results,” Education Secretary Jim Peyser said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the complete results as they become available.”

The early results provide a first look at PARCC scores. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said the numbers will “help establish a baseline for comparison with other PARCC states and with our own progress over time, should the board choose to adopt PARCC as our statewide assessment.”

According to the new test scores, 88 percent of 10th graders last spring scored “needs improvement” or higher on the MCAS tests, meeting the state’s minimum testing requirements for a high school diploma.

Those numbers stand in contrast with the rate of in-state students enrolling in remedial courses at the the state’s public universities and community colleges, said Stand for Education Massachusetts Executive Director Jason Williams.

Williams said nearly 36 percent of Massachusetts public high school graduates attending public universities and around 65 percent attending community college must take remedial courses, creating what he referred to as an “honesty gap” between MCAS results and college readiness.

Marty Walz, a former state representative now serving as a consultant to Democrats for Education Reform, said that the PARCC score results lined up with expectations she and others had in 2010 when she was the lead author of education reform legislation that aimed to close achievement gaps among different groups of students.

“We have not reached our goal of every student in the state graduating from high school ready for college-level work in their chosen careers,” Walz said. “There’s more work to do.”

The Department of Education also pointed to the continued narrowing of an achievement gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts based on MCAS scores. The performance difference has been shrinking on both the English and math assessments since 2007, according to the department.

Copyright State House News Service