The Massachusetts State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has voted to create a new hybrid version of the MCAS test that will incorporate a number of elements from PARCC testing.
However, it will be a year and a half before a copy of the hybrid version will be revealed to the public. Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, is hopeful that the test will focus more on the PARCC exam, believed by the alliance to be a better measure of students' capabilities.
The decision increases a five-year time span in which education officials have been trying to determine a new benchmark for student achievement.
Not everyone approves of the decision. Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, argues that the new exam will be PARCC with a different name. Madeloni went on to suggest the move was purely a political one, writes Jeremy C. Fox for The Boston Globe.
Coming as the result of an 8-3 vote, the "next-generation MCAS" proposed by Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester, will be the state's first overhaul of standardized testing in almost 20 years.
Districts that had tried out the PARCC exam in the spring will do so again in 2016, while those districts that continued to use the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System have the option of remaining with that exam or switching to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
In order to comply with a federal law requiring that only one standardized test be used in the state, the new exam will be rolled out in 2017. The state had received a two-year waiver to that law in order to try out the PARCC exams.
PARCC differs from the MCAS in that it focuses more on the process used by students to arrive at their answers as well as critical thinking skills. The test is aligned with the Common Core standards the state adopted in 2010.
Once the new hybrid exam is in place, passing it will become a graduation requirement for high school students in the state. At the same time, the MCAS will remain the requirement for students through the class of 2019, who will take the old exam in 2017.
According to an amendment to Chester's recommendation, individual schools and districts will not be able to be labeled as underperforming as a result of their test scores until 2018.
That amendment passed after a 7-4 vote that came with a considerable amount of debate. Board member Margaret McKenna proposed the amendment. While she said she approved the use of a hybrid exam, she thought that implementing it within only a year and a half was too soon and that more time was needed for development, beta testing, and setting standards.
The next step for Massachusetts will be to seek bids from test developers as well as to create committees of educators and testing specialists to give advice to developers on content and test policies. Under the recommendation from Chester, the state will continue to be a part of the consortium of states that developed PARCC.
"If Massachusetts were to clearly exit from the consortium, it would topple," said Madeloni. "So that was an effort to save the consortium. It had nothing to do with the students of Massachusetts."