Hindsight is always 20/20, but Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang doesn’t need any since he and many others were right about PARCC all along.
Chang was unequivocal in his testimony before the Massachusetts Board of Education when he urged them to stay the course with PARCC but, in a surprising twist of events, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester opted for a hybrid exam that would pull from both MCAS and PARCC.
While Chester decided Massachusetts would remain part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers—the group of states that created the PARCC test—it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a partial retreat. The state didn’t reject PARCC (as many news outlets initially and somewhat gleefully reported) but it did allow for politics to get in the way and cause them to pull their punch, to hesitate and move in a direction that the Bay State will likely regret.
A recent and first of its kind report out of the Fordham Institute compares PARCC, Smarter Balanced, ACT Aspire and MCAS and there is only one conclusion that can be drawn from it:
Massachusetts should have stayed full steam ahead on PARCC instead of bowing to political pressures and moving towards a one-of-a-kind hybrid exam.
Based on their reputation for educational excellence, I am confident that Massachusetts will come up with something good. But their last minute pivot, which will cost millions in taxpayer dollars and force teachers and schools to adjust, also means that Massachusetts students will take a lower-quality test. And that can’t be a good thing.
The News Isn’t All Bad
While the report is unequivocal that PARCC is superior to MCAS, the conclusion is not that PARCC is perfect or that MCAS is bad.
All four tests we evaluated boasted items of high technical quality, and the next generation assessments that were developed with the Common Core in mind have largely delivered on their promises. Yes, they have improvements to make, but they tend to reflect the content deemed essential in the Common Core standards and demand much from students cognitively.
They are, in fact, the kind of tests that many teachers have asked state officials to build for years.
But no one can deny the very real and often frustrating link between politics and education policy. A state like Massachusetts that prides itself on great schools needs to put test quality and the wisdom and courage of leaders like Chang ahead of political expediency.
While Massachusetts didn’t reject PARCC like other states—as predicted—did in true “election-season” fashion, it did bow to pressure to change course from what now appears would have been best for students.
Asking taxpayers to fund the creation of a new assessment that doesn’t best serve students’ needs is just plain wrong, no matter how politically expedient it may be.