Massachusetts Compares MCAS, PARCC Ahead of November Decision


This spring’s grades for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test (MCAS) have been released, with encouraging results for the closure of the racial achievement gap and interesting insights into the state’s new standardized testing regime.

Black and Hispanic students have made consistent progress in closing the achievement gap between races since 2007, according to Linda Bock of Patch. The English and math scores of black students and math scores of Hispanic students improved in most grades.

However, the English skills gap remained the same for black students in the third grade, and grew 2% in seventh grade. The English scores of Hispanic students improved in grades 4, 8, and 10, decreased in grades 5 through 7 while remaining the same in grade 3. Their math scores improved in most grades.

The most dramatic improvement for black students was in 10th grade English, with the gap having closed by 19% since 2007, which is the year that the MCAS became required for every student in grades 3 through 8. Hispanic students are only one point behind at 18% improvement in English and are 11% higher in math than they were in 2007. Black fourth graders have narrowed the performance gap by 8% over the last 8 years.

Peter Balonon-Rosen of Learning Lab quoted Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester:

I am pleased to see the MCAS scores reflect continued progress in narrowing some of the achievement gaps that persist between groups of students.

88% of 10th graders met the minimum MCAS requirements for graduation. When the requirement was instated 11 years ago, only 68% were successful.

Former state representative Marty Walz, who was the lead author of the Achievement Gap Act, said that supporters of the act that passed five years ago were pleased with the results. She said:

At that time, we deliberately raised the bar on ourselves, believing that Massachusetts students could and should reach higher academic performance.

In the future, the MCAS might be replaced with the PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers). Schools had the option of taking either exam and could administer the PARCC on paper or digitally. So far, only the digital scores have been released.

This year’s test run of the PARCC has shown that scores on the new test are consistently lower than on the MCAS, reports Jeremy C. Fox of the Boston Globe, which experts say is due to the different nature of the exam.

71% of third graders fell into the “advanced” or “proficient” categories of math scores, but only 51% of those the same age who took the PARCC fell into equivalent categories. Similarly, 80% of eighth graders scored proficient or advanced, but only 57% scored in the top two categories of the PARCC.

This may be because of the PARCC emphasis on critical thinking and synthesizing information, which suggests that it is more challenging than the MCAS.

Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said:

MCAS, basically, was designed as a measure of basic skills. It was intended to be a floor that all kids would meet. Over time, it has become the ceiling that schools strive to meet, and it’s just too low a bar.

The state’s board of education will vote on whether to keep or replace the MCAS in November.