Picking a Common-Core Test in Districts: The Picture So Far in Massachusetts

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 26, 2014 2 min read
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Last month, my colleague Catherine Gewertz and I compiled a map showing how the testing landscape in the 2014-15 school year breaks down. We marked Massachusetts as “undecided.”

Here’s why: Even though it’s a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and even though state K-12 chief Mitchell Chester is chairman of PARCC’s governing board, the state’s not fully committed to the test from that consortium. For English/language arts and math tests, districts will have the option in 2014-15 academic year of picking either the PARCC test, or the state’s existing Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test. Each district has to decide by Oct. 1, 2014.

So which test is proving more popular for Bay State districts so far? Data provided by the state education department from June 26 show that for E/LA and math tests in grades 3-8:

•120 districts out of the 212 to pick a test so far, or 57 percent of those districts, have selected the PARCC test.

• The remaining 92, or 43 percent of districts to respond so far, have picked the MCAS assessment.

“That’s actually held pretty steady as we’ve had more and more districts reporting to us,” department spokesman JC Considine told me, referring to the share of districts picking PARCC and MCAS in recent weeks.

The picture is cloudier for districts’ choices regarding high school tests in grades 9 and/or 11, which the department breaks down separately. That’s partially because some districts are K-12, of course, and some only have K-8. So some districts are double-counted when the department tallies up the separate numbers for their test choices for grades 3-8 and then high school. Also, even K-12 districts that pick PARCC, Considine told me, don’t have to administer it in high school.

However, with all those caveats noted, of the 170 districts with high school grades, so far, 42 (or 25 percent) have chosen to given the PARCC assessment. Here’s a chart showing the breakdown so far:

The decisions are also time-sensitive, and an important date in this process is very close. Districts that select a test for 2014-15 by June 30 are guaranteed to get those assessments. However, after June 30, a district isn’t guaranteed to actually get the test it picks. I asked Considine the reason for that “choice” deadline, and he responded that because of the challenges inherent in administering two different state assessments in the same year, the department wants to make the process easier by giving districts an incentive to make their choices as soon as possible.

Considine did say that it’s possible that the state may be able to give all districts the tests they want, even for those that make their choices after June 30.

The state’s three largest school districts—Boston, Worcester, and Springfield—get the option of administering PARCC in some schools and MCAS in others. However, all other districts have to administer either PARCC or MCAS, not both.

Below is a timeline for what comes next in Massachusetts (BESE refers to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education), with the dotted line representing where the state is now on the timeline:

Chester gave a June 25 presentation at a legislative forum about how the testing picture is shaping up in Massachusetts, and it includes additional information beyond districts’ choices. However, the number of districts picking each test changed between that presentation and when I spoke to Considine June 26, so he’s provided me with the most recent numbers in the chart I included above.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.