PARCC or MCAS? Gov. Baker wants to settle the debate

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BOSTON >> Saying he will be "open-minded" about the future of the state's standardized testing for students, Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday presented his new state education board chairman who was tasked with guiding the debate toward a choice between two tests.

"We need to have very high standards, and I think often the standards aren't high enough," said Paul Sagan, who described himself as a "very strong advocate for charter schools."

In weighing whether to stick with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is associated with the Common Core educational standards, Sagan said he would use data and seek firstly to "do no harm."

Sagan has a business background, including more than a decade on the executive team of Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, where he lives, and before that held positions at Time Warner Cable and Time Inc. Sagan is an executive in residence at General Catalyst Partners, a position Baker held before running for governor. Baker said he "overlapped" with Sagan for a few months at General Catalyst, but he knew him from years ago discussing education with him.

'Must do better'

Baker set a benchmark for what he deems unacceptable results, saying the state "must do better" than the roughly one third of high school students that he says enter college requiring remediation in English or math.

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Some schools will use PARCC this spring and thousands of students took the exam last year. Baker, who opposed the adoption of Common Core roughly five years ago, criticized the lack of public discussion that preceded PARCC's entry into Massachusetts.

"We need a public discussion on this," Baker said. "I think it's an embarrassment that a state that spent two years giving educators, families, parents, administrators and others an opportunity to comment and engage around the assessment system that eventually became MCAS basically gave nobody a voice or an opportunity to engage in a discussion at all before we went ahead and executed on Common Core and PARCC."

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Baker asked Sagan to hold at least five public hearings starting in June and directed Education Secretary James Peyser to synthesize studies on the "predictive validity" of the two tests.

"I'm willing to be open-minded about this one," Baker said.

Praise for pick

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Linda Noonan, the executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which supports Common Core, praised the governor for studying the issue and said much of the discussion around the issue has been emotional. Noonan said the group is also "thrilled" Sagan was chosen.

Noonan told the News Service the business alliance studied PARCC and MCAS without coming down on one side. She said proficiency in MCAS was "always designed to be a floor" but it has become "what everybody aims for."

The appointment of Sagan also won the praise of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

"For many years, Sagan has taken a leadership role in education reform in Massachusetts advocating for increased innovation and high standards at both charter public and district public schools," the group wrote in a statement.

Sagan will replace Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Karen Daniels, whose term ended in January, and he will take over the chairmanship from Margaret McKenna, whose term ends in 2019, according to the administration.


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