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Massachusetts Won't Require All Schools To Give PARCC Test in 2015

Massachusetts has decided not to require all schools to administer the PARCC test in 2015 when it first becomes operational.

In a 6-3 vote Nov. 19, the state board of education approved a two-year transition plan to the PARCC exams. The plan, presented by Commissioner of Education Mitchell D. Chester, outlines a phase-in process that would allow the board to wait until the fall of 2015—several months after the first operational PARCC tests are given—to decide whether to embrace the test for Massachusetts' 3rd through 8th grade students. The board would wait at least that long, or possibly longer, to decide if it will replace its current high school test, the 10th grade MCAS—which students must pass to graduate—with the PARCC exams. In the transition, districts could choose between PARCC and the MCAS.

The two-year transition is intended to provide time for teachers to get used to putting the new standards into practice, and for schools and districts to get familiar with online test administration. In a memo prepared for the board meeting, Chester also said it would allow enough time for state officials to compare the rigor of PARCC to that of the MCAS.

"I have heard a great deal from school superintendents and others about the importance of pacing ourselves so that schools can implement PARCC and other reform initiatives in a thoughtful way," he said in the memo. "This transition approach is responsive to the field; it allows us to take PARCC for a 'test drive' before the board decides whether to adopt PARCC as our state assessment program for [English/language arts] and mathematics."

He noted that the state's Race to the Top plan specifies that MCAS would sunset in 2014, and PARCC tests would begin in 2015. But "I believe this would be too precipitious a transition," Chester wrote. That change will likely require an amendment to the state's Race to the Top plan.

Chester's plan also includes testing flexibility for the PARCC field test this coming spring. "Double-testing" has become a hot topic as states confront the possibility that students will have to take both the state's regular tests and the field tests being given in spring of 2014 by PARCC and the other federally funded consortium, Smarter Balanced. The U.S. Department of Education is offering double-testing waivers to states to facilitate easing that burden.

Under the plan the board adopted, two-thirds of Massachusetts' schools will participate in the PARCC field test. But students in grades 3-8 who take the "performance based assessment"—the section of the PARCC test with longer tasks—in one or both subjects will not have to take the MCAS in those subjects. Tenth grade students would still take the MCAS to qualify for their diplomas.

Districts that use this "MCAS waiver option" will have less testing data for accountability, Chester said in his memo, so they can decide whether they want their schools' accountability ratings calculated by using results that exclude the field-tested grades, or those that include the field-tested grades.

In the fall of 2015, the board would decide whether to adopt PARCC "based on a determination of it being better than MCAS," according to Chester's memo. If it makes that move, PARCC tests would be given to students in grades 3-8 in the spring of 2016, while 10th graders would keep taking the MCAS pending a board decision to change tests.

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