Massachusetts Begins Process of Deciding Between PARCC and MCAS

By Catherine Gewertz — April 30, 2015 2 min read
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While other states chose one set of English/language arts and math tests for 2014-15 and administered them statewide, Massachusetts stood apart. It allowed districts to choose between the state’s current test, the MCAS, and PARCC. Now the Bay State is starting the process of deciding which test to embrace statewide next year.

The first public hearing in that process took place in Fitchburg earlier this week. It was the first of five public forums that the state board of education will hold before deciding, this fall, whether to use PARCC statewide in 2015-16 or the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. As we reported to you last fall, Massachusetts went ahead with the choice-of-tests approach despite a light slap on the wrist from the U.S. Department of Education, which essentially gave it a year to decide which test to use statewide.

At Tuesday’s session, the board got an earful from parents, teachers and community members. According to the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise, the public testimony included “rants, raves and everything in between.

Many of the public comments focused on the difficulty of teaching students to take tests on computers, when they’ve been accustomed to the paper-and-pencil MCAS.

A middle school teacher told the board that she has “a lot of empathy” for her students now, as they struggle to get used to the switch. A high school principal said that the computer skills needed for the math section were so daunting that administrators feared students were being tested “more on computer-literacy skills than on math skills.”

The paper-and-pencil version of PARCC didn’t seem to have allayed concerns, however. One principal complained that it felt like a poor substitute for the online version of PARCC.

Another thread of public feedback focused on the amount of staff time that had to be devoted to getting students ready for the test and then overseeing its administration.

Special education students weren’t getting the help they normally get because special-education staff members had to be reassigned to helping with test administration, Fitchburg Superintendent Andre Ravenelle told the board, according to the Sentinel & Enterprise. The district’s entire technology team had to focus on helping with computer glitches during the PARCC test, so they were unable to work on any other technology issue, he said.

Some who testified said the PARCC exam was more challenging than the MCAS, and praised that higher level of rigor. Others expressed their opposition to the new test, or to testing in general.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.