Let’s do Next-Gen MCAS right

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/11/18/lets-do-next-gen-mcas-right/

The Baker administration and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should be applauded for maintaining Massachusetts’ academic independence and testing autonomy, but the Commonwealth should reject any further participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (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.

Despite being less rigorous than MCAS, PARCC would take up far more instructional time.  By the time he or she graduated from high school, the average student would spend almost three times as many hours taking PARCC tests than they would MCAS assessments, according to a recent Pioneer Institute study.

The PARCC consortium is on its death bed.  Twenty-six states were once members, but membership is now in single digits.  The states that remain are among the nation’s lowest performers.  Over time, the inability of students in states like New Mexico to pass tests at the level of their Massachusetts counterparts would create pressure to diminish the tests’ rigor.

PARCC has now proposed allowing states to select which test questions they would like to use.  But this desperate attempt to counteract fears about states – especially high-performers like Massachusetts – losing control of assessments to a national consortium is too little too late.

The five-year detour with PARCC and national standards known as Common Core on which the tests are based 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.

Jim Stergios is Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.

Also by Jim Stergios:

Rotten to the core: Big money pushes PARCC and Common Core