BOSTON — Massachusetts students will soon be facing a new standardized test after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to combine elements of the existing MCAS test with another test aligned with Common Core state standards.
Approval of the hybrid test came on an 8-3 vote Tuesday after two years of debate whether to replace the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test with the PARCC test.
PARCC — which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — was developed by a national consortium that includes Massachusetts.
The new "next-generation MCAS" would be given for the first time in spring 2017. It would use both PARCC and MCAS items, along with items developed specifically for the Massachusetts tests.
MCAS will continue to be a graduation requirement through the class of 2019.
Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said both tests have meritable components. While his district fully participated in PARCC last spring, he said, "I'm happy to see we didn't entirely throw out MCAS."
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester recommended the changes last week. He said the new test will help better prepare students for college and a career.
Secretary of Education James Peyser said the vote "gives our students, families and educators a better measure of student achievement while maintaining state control over our assessment system."
MCAS has been used since 1998. Passing the exam's English language and math portions became a high school graduation requirement in 2003. A science and technology requirement was added in 2010.
Massachusetts gave PARCC a two-year trial run to help determine if it should replace MCAS as the state's primary educational assessment tool and graduation requirement for high school students.
In 2015, the state gave school districts the option of administering PARCC or MCAS to students in Grades 3-8. Officials said 54 percent of districts statewide chose PARCC. All 10th-graders were still required to take MCAS. More than 220,000 students in more than half of the state's districts took complete PARCC tests last year.
Results showed that students in Grades 3-8 who took PARCC last spring were, on average, less likely to perform well on that test than those who took the traditional MCAS exams, officials said.
For spring 2016, schools districts that administered PARCC last spring will use the test again. Districts will continue with MCAS unless they choose to administer PARCC.
Education officials say the MCAS tests used next spring will include a limited number of items from the PARCC test in to make statewide comparisons easier. The changes will also give students and teachers a chance to experience elements of PARCC while the new assessment test is being developed.
PARCC is aligned with Common Core standards that have been adopted in about 40 states but have become a rallying point for critics who say the standards interfere with states' abilities to shape their own educational blueprints.
McCandless said that PARCC's style of deeper questioning allowed students to demonstrate "multiple and sequential thoughts and ideas."
"I feel like the state made a thoughtful decision for the good of kids," he said.
But he added that, "We can do all the testing in the world but it still doesn't address the real challenges in learning we're up against." This, he said, includes issues like mental health, poverty and learning deficits that students face.
He also said he appreciated the benchmark calling for all schools to test via computer by 2019.
"I'm pleased the state committed to have an online testing environment," he said. "Our students did pretty well with the online testing environment and it forced us to invest in technology and machines we now use every day for instruction."
Common Core supporters say the curriculum better prepares students for college and 21st century careers.
Officials said any districts that use the PARCC test next spring will be held harmless for any negative changes in their school and district accountability levels. That's a continuation of the state's approach to districts that used PARCC in spring 2015.
The board also voted to hold all districts harmless based on test scores in 2017, when all the state's districts would use a single test.