New PARCC exams to focus on student readiness, may replace MCAS


Standardized test scores and progress reports for Massachusetts public schools and districts were released on Friday, perhaps for the last time in the way that school systems have come to know it.

In spring 2014, a new testing system will be piloted in Massachusetts in addition to Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams.

While these numbers from the spring MCAS exams will be crunched over the next several months to see what areas students succeeded and struggled, the scores also tell another story about how the state's overall assessment system has to change. According to The Associated Press, students' scores on exams from the latest MCAS continue to improve, yet many graduates are still not fully prepared for the academic rigors of college.

Wednesday's release of the statewide MCAS averages showed a record high performance by 10th-graders. The percentages of students scoring proficient or higher on the tests were 91 percent for the English portion, 80 percent for math and 71 percent for science.

The state said 88 percent of students met the minimum requirements on their first try this year, up from 86 percent a year ago.

Despite that trend, the state's education commissioner, Mitchell Chester, noted that 40 percent of Massachusetts public high school graduates who enroll in the state's public colleges and universities are placed in noncredit, developmental or remedial programs to help them handle the tougher coursework.

"While I am pleased to see more than a decade of continuous improvement at grade 10, it's clear that MCAS is not providing us with the signal or rigor we need to tell us whether students are on track and ready for college-level work," Chester said.

In recent years, officials have been rethinking ways to put students on track for careers and college preparedness. About four years ago, a 19-state consortium known as PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- was formed. Chester currently chairs the PARCC governing board.

In Berkshire County, Robin Getzen, an English language arts teacher at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, and Charlie Kaminski, dean of academic affairs for business, science, mathematics and technology at Berkshire Community College, are PARCC educator fellows who serve as local liaisons on the initiative.

JC Considine, spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told The Eagle, "MCAS was never intended to assess college and career readiness" and that the testing system is "not really providing an indicator that students are ready for college-level work."

Still, a passing score on MCAS is required for students to receive their high school diplomas.

Already, state colleges are considering passing PARCC scores as an alternative to college course placement exams, though not necessarily for admissions.

So while the way is certainly being paved, whether the new PARCC assessments will actually be implemented as a replacement for the MCAS exams is to be determined. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to meet more formally on the matter next month.

What is PARCC?

PARCC, "Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers," is a group of 19 states, including Massachusetts, working together to develop a new set of common computer-based assessments to test students from kindergarten through Grade 12 using Common Core Standards.

PARCC aims to evaluate students more often but in shorter periods of time in contrast to MCAS.


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