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Two-Year Transition to Common-Core Tests Approved in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has approved a two-year transition to the tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, my colleague Catherine Gewertz has reported at the Curriculum Matters blog. This transition specifically means that not all Massachusetts schools will be administering the PARCC exams in the spring of 2015, a significant shift from the original plan for the tests.

The plan, which was approved by a 6-3 vote of the state Board of Education Nov. 19, would allow the board to wait until the fall of 2015 to decide whether to fully embrace the PARCC test for students in grades 3-8. That's several months after the first operational tests are due to be administered. During this transitional period, districts could choose whether to use the state's current test, the MCAS, or PARCC. If the board determines that PARCC is a better exam, then all state students in grades 3-8 will take the PARCC test in 2016. 

The 2014-15 school year has always been a significant one for the common core, since it's the first year that high-stakes assessments from PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium based on the standards are due to be adminstered. (Field testing is taking place in several states this school year.) But in his memo describing the transition plan, Mitchell D. Chester, the Massachusetts education commissioner, explained that he thought that timeline for a complete switch to PARCC was "too precipitous" for schools. 

Chester, by the way, is the chairman of PARCC's governing board. The move might illustrate that states are becoming increasingly skittish about how the new tests will impact their students' proficiency numbers. Or the move could end up being a smart way to handle the new demands of the standards and their associated assessments by simply giving officials more time to consider the matter (and the results). 

Slowing down the switch to the common core standards themselves, meanwhile, has cropped up in another state. According to StateImpact NPR, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents is requesting an additional three years to fully transition to the common core. The standards are slated to be fully implemented in Florida for the 2014-15 school year—this year, not all grade levels have completely made the switch. Unlike in Massachusetts, however, the Florida school board doesn't appear sympathetic to allowing more time for common-core related matters. 

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