Mass. schools chief mulls cost of PARCC/MCAS hybrid


BOSTON >> Borrowing from a multi-state exam to build a better standardized test in Massachusetts has an unknown cost, according to the state's education chief, who hopes that route would be affordable.

"We don't know what the costs will be," Education Secretary James Peyser told the News Service on Thursday. "If you assume that what we're trying to do is extract the best of both assessments, then I think we're actually drawing on existing content that's been developed, where the investment has been made."

In developing a hybrid, Peyser said the state could borrow freely from the multi-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote Nov. 17 on whether to stick with the in-house-developed MCAS, switch to the PARCC system or develop a new measurement for student achievement and college readiness.

In fiscal 2015, the state spent about $24 million on longtime MCAS vendor Measured Progress, and paid Pearson $7.1 million for districts that chose to use PARCC, while paying PARCC, Inc. an additional roughly $565,000.

Massachusetts does not use PARCC for science testing and MCAS is still used for the 10th-grade exam that serves as a graduation requirement, a practice that will continue for years, according to Jacqueline Reis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Reis said the total spending on standardized tests in fiscal 2015 was about $37.2 million when accounting for staff costs and other expenses, and about $33.5 million when limited to assessment contracts.

Peyser said he hoped developing a new test would cost about the same as running two tests.

"My hope is that it would actually end up not being all that much more expensive, and maybe not more expensive at all in the near-term than administering two assessments," Peyser said.

Citing publicly available reports on other states that opted to develop tests on their own rather than use PARCC, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education argues the cost and time for establishing a new state test could be substantial.

"To assume that these decisions have no cost implications is to ignore the experience of other states," Linda Noonan, the executive director of the business alliance, told the News Service.

On its website, the business alliance contends that MCAS "does not meet those goals" of measuring readiness to succeed in higher education and in careers while PARCC "shows promise."


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