Reform based on pre-2011 MCAS draws support from Pioneer Institute

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BOSTON – As Massachusetts education officials gear up to decide next month whether to adopt the national PARCC exam to assess academic achievement, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute on Tuesday released a study critical of PARCC that suggests creating a new set of state examinations based on the original MCAS exam.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which guides policy, including testing standards, for public schools in the state, is considering several alternatives. These range from continuing to use the nearly two-decade-old Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, known as MCAS, adopting PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or creating a new state assessment system. The third option was suggested recently by Education Secretary Jim Peyser, a former head of the Pioneer Institute, and Mitchell Chester, the public schools commissioner.

In an Oct. 19 board meeting, Chester said he was exploring MCAS 2.0 as a third option because it maintained state control over the assessments, and could involve factors from PARCC.

Jim Stergios, the executive director of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute said that a “dispassionate” and independent review is important when the education board plans to examine research from organizations funded by proponents of Common Core, the national academic standards on which the PARCC exam is based.

Pioneer has been critical of Common Core and PARCC and its new study concludes that they should be phased out.

“What is clear,” Stergios said in an interview, “is the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has either neglected to keep up quality of 10th grade MCAS or done something more nefarious than that and let it slide, in terms of quality.”

In a statement released with the study, Stergios said that the research supported keeping MCAS, with improvements.

“We are all for an MCAS 2.0, but that means pre-2011 MCAS should be the starting point for new assessments and test items, not PARCC,” he said in the statement. “The research leads us to support keeping MCAS and making it an even better test.”

The study identifies six flaws found in the Common Core-based PARCC exam, particularly in the areas of reading and writing. The study suggests that an updated, more rigorous MCAS would lower costs and offer better information about student performance.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican and also a former Pioneer leader, emphasized his support of standardised testing Monday, the State House News Service reported.

“PARCC does involve far more tests at far more levels than MCAS does, and one of the reasons I’m a big believer in controlling our own destiny is not only because we then get to set our own test in terms of what we think it should look like and create frameworks around what we think those frameworks should look like, but it also gives us more flexibility with respect to when we’re going to actually test,” Baker said.

On Monday, 18 state educators and superintendents recommended PARCC over MCAS in a letter to the education board. They called the exam a “superior assessment” for preparing students for college.

On Oct. 19, Chester told the board that a third option may be the most attractive. “I’ve been thinking about 2 doors – #1, MCAS or #2, PARCC. I’m now exploring Door #3 – MCAS 2.0,” he said in his remarks. “While Massachusetts has exercised a leadership role among the consortium states, any path forward to MCAS 2.0 that includes PARCC must be a direction over which we control.”

“Door #3 – that takes advantage of our access to PARCC development in the construction of MCAS 2.0,” Chester said. “PARCC as starting point for MCAS 2.0 allows us to move faster, start further along toward MCAS 2.0.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter at @karabettis


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