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Mass. Report: PARCC is Right Common-Core Test for Schools ... With Caveats

A while back, I wrote about how, in an unusual arrangement as far as state assessment goes, Massachusetts districts were choosing between two state assessments to administer this school year: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), a test originally developed in 1993 and used to satisfy requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. So with PARCC and MCAS on deck this spring, does each test accurately measure "college- and career-readiness" of students that so many states now say is their top priority?

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a group that represents the state's private sector, relying on an analysis by the New Hampshire-based Center for Assessment, has attempted to answer that question. Their conclusion? In short, "Educating Students for Success" states that the answer for the MCAS is clearly no, and the answer for PARCC is yes ... but it's a cautious and conditional yes.

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The two groups' report asks three questions, and breaks down the answer for each test. I've included each question, and one or two tidbits the report provides in response. 

• Does the test identify students who are college- and career-ready?

While MCAS doesn't have an explicit bar for students to clear in order to demonstrate postsecondary readiness, student performance on PARCC is designed to translate directly into successful completion of college courses in English/language arts and math.

• Does the test contain the right content to measure college- and career-readiness? 

This section focuses in large part on the types of test items. One aspect of PARCC the report stresses is the performance-based assessments, given to students about three-quarters of the way through the academic year, which the report says "are designed to allow students to demonstrate problem-solving and other higher level cognitive skills."

• Do the elementary and middle school tests provide good information about student progress toward college- and career-readiness?

The individual grade-level tests that make up the MCAS were not all developed at the same time, the report notes, unlike the corresponding PARCC assessments. Tests for the MCAS were added in 1998, 2001, and 2006. And PARCC, says the report, also provides specific descriptions of what strong student performance should show look like at each grade level.

So why does the report give only a conditional thumbs-up to PARCC? The groups say that it shouldn't be assumed that PARCC is a better test than what Massachusetts could come up with on its own, and they add: "Until PARCC releases results and interpretive materials, however, we will not know how useful that information is for parents, educators, and policy makers."

In its conclusion, the report says the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-common-core think tank in Washington, along with the Human Resource Research Organization, will conduct a study examining how well MCAS, PARCC, and other states' assessments align with the Common Core State Standards. So expect at least one more high-profile report about standards and assessments in the states in the not-too-distant future. 

Read the full report below:

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