PARCC, MCAS and the Future of Standardized Testing in Massachusetts

What is PARCC?

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a new computer-based test that will measure students’ abilities according to the Common Core standards in math and English.

There will be two sets of tests for each of the subjects, one with long-form answers in March and another with short answers near the end of the school year. There will also be tests of listening and speaking skills.

PARCC is set to replace the current MCAS math and English exams for students in grades 3 through 11.

What is MCAS?

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) are a set of exams used to assess Massachusetts’ statewide education standards. All students in grades 3-8 and 10 at schools that receive state funding must take the exam each year.

Under the current setup, students must pass the 10th grade MCAS in English language arts (ELA), math, and a science subject in order to graduate.

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PARCC timeline

The transition will happen slowly, but surely. At least through the class of 2017, the current MCAS high school graduation requirements can remain in place. Until then, individual districts may choose whether they want to use PARCC or MCAS exams. Many have already switched over to PARCC.

The state board of education will wait until 2015 to decide whether to adopt the PARCC test for 3rd through 8th grade students throughout the state. The board may wait that long or longer to decide whether PARCC will replace the 10th grade MCAS tests.

PARCC vs. MCAS: Advantages And Disadvantages

A point of contention is the platform of the tests. The goal is to have all students eventually take the exam on a tablet, laptop, desktop or other type of computer device.

Supporters argue this will enhance tracking student progress and that the test is adapting to the 21st century. Others argue that students in poorer districts may not have as much practice or access to computers. They say a technological divide may be confused as an achievement gap.

Districts will need to provide their own computer systems to administer the test.

Timing is another key difference. On MCAS, students can take as much time as they need. PARCC exams will have time limits.

There is no PARCC test in science, so the MCAS is expected to continue in that subject. To recieve a diploma, students currently have to pass all three subjects.

Cost

In 2013, school officials figured it will cost $29.50 per student to test English and math using the PARCC. The MCAS costs $46 per student to test the same two subjects.

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So, Why The Controversy?

The implementation of PARCC exams marks the switch to Common Core standards in the state. With new standards, new ways of evaluating them are needed. The large-scale standards change is not one that was expected to transition completely smoothly, and, unsurprisingly, it has not.

Common Core is not just unique to Massachusetts — it is being implemented in 43 states across the country. Fifteen states will use PARCC exams to evaluate students. Fears are present about Massachusetts losing local control of testing. The state currently tops state education rankings.

Massachusetts is a testing ground to measure the effectiveness of the test for other states. Parents have claimed they don’t want their children being used, as some have said, “as lab rats.”

Additionally, the tests will be long and there will be a lot of them.

Where MCAS exams were administered once yearly, PARCC will have two sets of tests for each of the subjects. One test with long-form answers in March and another with short answers near the end of the school year.

PARCC estimates the exams may take eight hours for the average third-grader and almost 10 hours for highs school students.

With more time and more tests, that means more money for testing companies. According to Politico, Pearson, the company who won the bid to deliver PARCC tests, could earn more than $1 billion over the next eight years if enough states adopt the test. Many, including Peabody School Committee member Dave McGeney, see the adoption of the new standards and tests as part of a larger “educational industrial complex.”

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