Keeping MCAS, but upping math standard seen as alternative

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STATE HOUSE — Education Secretary James Peyser wrote an op-ed in September laying out the choice the state Board of Education faces in November in choosing between keeping the state’s MCAS exam or adopting a new student assessment known as PARCC.

But new research suggests a third option: continuing with the current MCAS exam but setting a higher score threshold in math to ensure that more students are ready for the rigors of college.

The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research for the state Executive Office of Education and released on Tuesday, involved first-year college students and found scores on the MCAS exam predict college performance as well as scores on the PARCC exam, which was developed by a consortium of states to align with Common Core standards. Scores on both exams are comparable to SAT scores in predicting college outcomes, according to the study.

But researchers found PARCC’s math standard predicts a higher level of college performance than meeting the MCAS standard for proficiency, with students who achieve the college-ready standard on PARCC less likely to need remediation than students who achieve the proficient standard on MCAS. Students meeting PARCC’s college-ready standard earned a 2.81 grade point average in first-year college math courses and students at the proficient standard on the MCAS earned a 2.39 GPA.

As a result, researchers said that in order to align math performance standards with college readiness, the state “could either adopt the PARCC exam or create a higher math standard on the MCAS exam.”

In his op-ed, Peyser, Gov. Charlie Baker’s point person on education issues, didn’t take his own stance on MCAS versus PARCC, concluding only that “regardless of which test the board chooses, the Commonwealth must recommit itself to maintaining and improving its system of standards, assessments, and accountability for results.”

A Peyser aide told the News Service he plans to remain neutral on the topic until the Mathematica study is released as well as a “literature review of all the relevant studies on the assessment tests.” Aides said he also plans to listen to testimony at the board’s October meetings on Monday and Tuesday and testimony presented by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education before he decides.

The board plans a special meeting Monday at 4 p.m. in Malden focused on student assessment. According to an Oct. 9 memo from Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, the board will be briefed on research projects, Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago will discuss K-12 assessment issues from the perspective of state universities and colleges, and there will be a discussion of research featuring PARCC Inc. director of assessment Jeff Nellhaus.

Regarding Tuesday’s meeting, Chester wrote that student assessment services official Bob Lee would present a state-level overview of results from last spring’s PARCC administration. He said state officials planned to release school and district summary reports in early November, and wrote that he expected over the holiday weekend to email board members detailed information on “the status of technology in schools and on the cost of needed upgrades.”

Board members may also be interested in “studies in the pipeline,” with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Human Resources Research Organization collaborating on an independent review of PARCC and its alignment to our curriculum frameworks,” Chester wrote. Bellwether Education Partners is also conducting a review of the PARCC consortium’s governance structure and long-term sustainability.

Read the Mathematica Report here

— Written by Michael Norton

Copyright State House News Service