Mass. will use PARCC questions, on its own

Massachusetts won’t commit its testing program to the multistate consortium known as PARCC but will develop its own tests that will include some PARCC content, the New York Times reports.

The Massachusetts State Board of Education decided a week ago, based on the recommendation of Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of education, and after hearing critical viewpoints from across the state, that Massachusetts will develop its own tests that include content from PARCC, at a cost of several millions of dollars and a delay of one year.

Exactly how PARCC content will be combined with content solely from Massachusetts wasn’t described. The state will now have the flexibility, however, to change test questions and other content as it sees fit without having the need to get approval from other states.

Across the nation, the state has long been considered a leader not only in higher education but in the K-12 sphere as well. The state intends to remain a member of the consortium and maintain some content in common with the other PARCC states, and this move was described as being the “best of both worlds” in school testing, Mr Chester said.

“We’re increasingly a global world,” he said. “And the idea that 50 different states in the United States had 50 different definitions of what it means to be literate and what it means to know math—and on top of that those 50 states had 50 different assessments to determine whether you’re literate or whether you know math—makes little sense.”

What effect the defection from the PARCC tests by Massachusetts will have on other PARCC member states—the District of Columbia and Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Colorado—is unknown. PARCC started out as a cooperation between 26 states, but now has only six and D.C. that will use the tests. Smarter Balanced, the other multistate assessment consortium, began with 31 states and now has only 15.

“It’s hugely symbolic because Massachusetts is widely seen as kind of the gold standard in successful education reform,” the Times quoted Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, who is leading an evaluation of the national tests, as saying. “It opens the door for a lot of other states that are under a lot of pressure to repeal Common Core. Getting rid of these tests is a nice bone to throw.”

Furthermore, Mr Chester was a leader in PARCC and was in on the discussions that led to its formation. In 2009, the Times reported, he and colleagues in Louisiana and Florida proposed that states combine resources on a test aligned to the Common Core State Standards. This would, it was believed, help save money by centralizing operations and allow state-to-state comparisons of school progress.

Examples could then be made, it was hoped, of exemplary schools in exemplary states, based on an analysis of test results and other data and metadata. Florida became the fiscal agent for the PARCC consortium and Mr Chester its commissioner. But soon both Florida and Louisiana pulled out of the consortium, and now, Massachusetts is pulling back from the tests that were its sole reason for being.

On the national front, national tests from PARCC and Smarter Balanced have been conflated with the Common Core State Standards themselves. As a result, the Common Core has become a political hot potato that leaders in our schools and state houses keep trying to get rid of. A recent move to do so in Colorado failed, as moves have in all but three states, but a possible ballot initiative in Massachusetts could repeal the state’s adoption of the standards.

The Common Core implementation was also flawed in that it reduced the role parents can play in their children’s education and impeded constructive dialog about education between our communities and our schools. All parents can really do to help is ensure kids show up at school. They can no longer discuss homework with their children or discuss the teaching of those subjects with their children’s teachers, because they often don’t understand the methodology used in the implementation of the Common Core standards.

Without a set of national standards, though, states would have to fend for themselves, which is exactly the situation that led to some states lowering their standards in the past—not Massachusetts, certainly, but some states for sure. We can’t go back to that, and right now, Common Core is the only thing keeping us from that quicksand of testing.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.