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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Student Assessment - Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
January 13, 2012


At the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday afternoon, January 23, 2012, I will update the Board on our work to develop the next generation of student assessments through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium. I am pleased that we will be joined by Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, and Laura Slover, Achieve vice president and director of the PARCC project. Achieve serves as the project manager for PARCC. Additionally, our Department's Student Assessment staff will discuss the development of performance assessments, as well as initiatives designed to provide teachers with new tools and instructional resources.

Milestones Related To Student Assessment Initiatives

  • In 2008, DESE conducted a competition for a contractor to administer the MCAS program from January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2014; this contract included several optional components to develop and pilot innovative new approaches to MCAS assessments.
  • In July 2010, the Board adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), contingent on augmenting and customizing them for Massachusetts.
  • In August 2010, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) awarded a four-year, $250 million "Race to the Top" grant to Massachusetts.
  • In September 2010, the USED awarded a four-year, $170 million "next-generation assessment" grant to the multi-state PARCC consortium, which includes Massachusetts.
  • In December 2010, the Board adopted the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics Incorporating the Common Core State Standards.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

PARCC is a 24-state consortium working together to develop next-generation K-12 assessments in English and math. PARCC currently comprises 18 "governing states" and 6 "participating states." Governing states are committed to active involvement in the governance of the consortium and the development of the PARCC assessments, and have agreed to administer these assessments beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. Massachusetts is a governing state in PARCC. Governor Patrick, Secretary Reville, and I agreed to have Massachusetts join PARCC and adopt its English language arts and mathematics assessments, provided they are as good as, or better than, our current MCAS assessments.

PARCC is a state-led enterprise. The members of the PARCC Governing Board elected me as the first chair of the board, and they reappointed me for an additional year in September 2011. I am assisted by several Department staff who are deeply involved in the PARCC leadership team and serve on multiple working groups, to ensure that the consortium achieves our goal of a next-generation assessment system of the highest quality.

PARCC has secured an active higher-education role in an effort to provide students, their families, and educators with accurate feedback on whether students are on-track to, or have reached readiness for credit-bearing, college coursework. One of PARCC's goals is that higher education has sufficient confidence in the college ready certification that campuses utilize students' PARCC results for placement decisions. Massachusetts is fortunate to have our Commissioner of Higher Education, Richard Freeland, serve as co-chair of the Advisory Committee on College Readiness (ACCR), the higher-education complement to the K-12-led PARCC Governing Board.

The PARCC states selected Achieve, a bipartisan, non-profit, education-reform organization, to serve as the project manager and facilitate the work of the consortium. In this role, Achieve regularly convenes K-12, postsecondary, and policy leaders from across the 24 PARCC states to address the major design, development, and implementation challenges of building a common, next-generation assessment system. Achieve's role is to carry out the decisions of the Governing Board and its associated K-12 and higher-education leadership teams, build consensus across the PARCC states, and keep the work of the consortium on track. Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, will elaborate on the progress PARCC has made on the assessment system design, and what lies ahead. Included with this memo is an overview of PARCC; more information on the consortium can also be found at

New Innovations and Supports for Massachusetts State and Local Student Assessments

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is one of the most highly regarded large-scale summative testing programs in the nation. MCAS tests are currently administered for the grades and subjects shown in the table below.

MCAS TestGrade
ELA Reading Comprehension ++
ELA Composition (Writing)     ++
Mathematics ++
Science and Technology/Engineering    ++
History and Social Science  (-) (-)  (-)(-)
=Administered in this grade
+=Retests are offered to students scoring below Needs Improvement
(-)=Testing has been suspended

MCAS has served our state well, sharply focusing attention on curriculum standards and the goal of moving all students to Proficient and beyond. At the same time, we are well aware of improvements that can be made to our current implementation of this comprehensive assessment system. Relying on end-of-year, on-demand tests has limited our ability to measure student performance on some of the hardest-to-assess standards. MCAS results are provided to teachers, students, and parents too late in the school year to help target and support improved teaching and learning in the current grade and subject. Early in my tenure as commissioner, I set in motion a number of initiatives that will transform our already excellent assessment system into an even better one.

In 2008, the Department issued a Request for Responses to seek a contractor for the next generation of the MCAS. As part of the vision for a fully integrated, coherent, and efficient 21st-century assessment system, the Department requested that bidders propose models for:

  • locally administered, curriculum-embedded performance assessments (CEPAs) that provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate not only their knowledge, but also their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills on standards that are difficult to assess using current MCAS constructed-response items;
  • an online interim assessment system that is aligned to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, will provide early indicators of performance and suggestions for instructional interventions, and will reliably predict student performance on MCAS.

Initially, cuts in state funding delayed plans for pursuing these initiatives. By winning a grant from the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation, the Department was able to begin work on the highest priority among these initiatives, the development of CEPAs. Design options for both the formative (classroom-based) and summative (e.g., MCAS) use of CEPAs in ELA, Mathematics, Science and Technology/Engineering, and History and Social Science were completed by June 2010.

Massachusetts's Race to the Top grant includes significant resources to advance this work in order to provide teachers, schools, and districts with tools and resources that will increase their ability to use assessments to continuously improve teaching and learning for all students. We will update the Board on this work, which includes integrating CEPAs within model curriculum units and the development of an online interim and formative assessment system. Attached you will find brief summaries of these initiatives, and how they are integrated within a comprehensive online teaching and learning system.

During this same period of time, USED launched the competition for "Next-Generation Assessments" that led to funding for two consortia, PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Massachusetts elected to join PARCC because of PARCC's commitment to the Common Core State Standards, high expectations for every student, and the opportunity to incorporate performance assessments administered over the course of the year into summative scores. Our work designing CEPAs that can contribute to a student's summative score has helped Massachusetts lead and contribute to this dimension of PARCC's work.

I look forward to this opportunity to discuss how our participation in the PARCC consortium and our development of new assessment resources for educators through our RTTT grant have the potential to strengthen teaching and learning, and close proficiency gaps.


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Race to the Top Assessment Projects

Last Updated: January 19, 2012
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