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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update: Participation in the Race to the Top (RTTT) Assessment Competitions

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:June 18, 2010

I am writing to provide you with a brief overview of two state-led assessment consortia in which we are participating, both of which are submitting proposals in response to the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top Assessment Program grant competition. The competition consists of two parts: Part A, a competition for $320 million (two awards will be made) for assessments at grades 3-8 and high school; and Part B, a competition for $30 million (one award will be made) for end-of-course high school assessments. All assessments funded by the program must be designed to measure student performance on the Common Core State Standards.

I have firmly conditioned our continued participation in these consortia on the following: the resulting assessments must not only be of the same or higher quality and rigor as MCAS, they must bring additional value to teaching, learning and accountability for results for our Commonwealth. Additional information on each of the consortia is provided below. If we ultimately determine that one or both are of lesser quality and rigor than MCAS, we retain the right to withdraw without penalty from either consortium at any time.

Part A: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

The PARCC consortium consists of 25 participating states, plus the District of Columbia (see attachment); Massachusetts is one of 10 governing states. If the consortium is funded, I will chair the board of the consortium's governing states for at least the first year of the four-year grant. Serving as chair enables me to ensure that the resulting assessments are of the highest quality and meet the level of rigor we have come to expect of MCAS. We have actively participated in the development, review, and revision of the PARCC proposal, which is due for submission to the U.S. Department of Education on June 23. Coordination of the development of the proposal has been facilitated by Achieve, Inc., which was recently selected through a competitive process conducted by the governing states as the Project Manager for the consortium.

The partnership recognizes the importance of this grant opportunity to build on the Common Core State Standards initiative by developing an assessment program designed to measure the extent to which students are "on track" and ready for college and careers. It endeavors to increase coordination among early education, Pre-K-12 and higher education systems to improve alignment in curriculum, policies, and programs. The partnership also intends to create an assessment system that leverages technology and existing and emerging research to significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of large-scale assessment. The PARCC proposal will expand our current assessment technology to include knowledge and skills that are not conducive to assessment through traditional one- or two-hour test administrations. In addition, it will provide data on student performance at three points during the school year, enabling districts, schools, and teachers to make real-time decisions on resource allocation to refine and strengthen instructional programs.

The proposed test design consists of three performance assessments and one end-of-year assessment. The performance assessments will be administered at quarterly intervals during the school year to provide teachers with more frequent information about student learning. The end-of year assessment will be computer-based. This will reduce scoring costs, minimize reporting time, provide an opportunity to introduce innovative item types, and reduce the cost of printing, shipping, and receiving millions of test booklets and other paper-based materials. Information from both the performance and end-of year assessments will be combined to generate individual student, school, district, and state level results before the end of each school year.

PARCC assessments will be developed and piloted over the next four years and are scheduled to become operational in the 2014-2015 school year. During the development period, we intend to administer MCAS as usual until we are satisfied that a transition to PARCC will not compromise the high quality assessment system and high standards for performance we currently have in place. Unless and until we can make that determination, we will not commit to statewide implementation of the PARCC assessments.

Part B: State Consortium on Board Examination Systems (SCOBES)

The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) is taking the lead on developing the RTTT proposal for SCOBES and has been selected as the Project Manager. Secretary Reville and I have agreed to participate in the piloting of board examination systems in ten Massachusetts high schools should we become eligible for funding under this initiative.

NCEE has long advocated for, and the consortium has agreed to use, internationally recognized board exam systems (e.g., the University of Cambridge International and International Baccalaureate examinations) to assess high school students. The selection of appropriate board examination systems is contingent upon these systems adapting their assessments to align with the Common Core State Standards. The lower division (end of grades 10 or 11) board exams are designed to motivate and provide high school students who currently struggle to succeed after enrolling in open admissions colleges with a set of knowledge and skills sufficiently strong to enable them to enroll directly into matriculating programs without the need for remediation. States participating in SCOBES must commit to make any changes that may be necessary to allow students who pass the lower division exams to have a choice (potentially as early as their tenth-grade year) of enrolling directly in an open enrollment two- or four-year college, or continuing in high school in order to participate in upper division exams. The upper division board exams, comparable to "A" levels in England or IB Diploma Program, will be designed to assess the knowledge and skills required by selective admissions colleges and universities.


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Lists of states participating in the PARCC and SCOBES consortia

Last Updated: June 21, 2010
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