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Plan for Administering MCAS and PARCC Student Assessments

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
October 11, 2013


At the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on October 22, 2013, we will continue the discussion on the proposed transition from MCAS to PARCC that we began in September. This month we will focus more deeply on the PARCC assessment to help the Board prepare for a vote in November 2013 on the transition plan I have proposed. The bar is set high for the transition to PARCC: it must prove to be a better assessment than our current, nationally recognized MCAS assessments.

We began this discussion in September by reviewing the Board's role in adopting curriculum frameworks that encompass our subject area content standards and the customized Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) that we design, build, and deliver each year to assess these standards. MCAS has earned recognition based on its alignment to the standards, the rigor of the items developed to assess them, and quality of the overall assessments. At this month's Board meeting, we will briefly review what makes MCAS a rigorous and high-quality assessment, including some insights into the development process and the types of items that make it work so effectively. This will provide members with a reference point as we next review what is emerging from the development of the PARCC assessments.

The design of the PARCC assessment is generating a great deal of interest among educators at the district and school levels. Many are excited by the prospect of PARCC introducing a performance assessment component and technology enhanced items for large scale student assessment. They want to know more about how these components will work, the extent to which they will provide a more authentic measure of students' skills and abilities, and how teachers can help prepare students for these new, innovative approaches to assessment. Educators are also concerned about conducting performance assessments before the end of the school year and how setting aside time to conduct the performance assessments (three sessions in English language arts and two in math), will compete with time for instruction.

We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have 24 "PARCC Educator Leader Fellows," 18 from K-12 and six from higher education, who are charged with engaging local educators on these and other questions and concerns. The PARCC Fellows receive a modest stipend from PARCC to help support the time they devote to this work, which includes learning in detail about PARCC, staying abreast of new developments, and then convening and participating in meetings and other forums with educators from across the Commonwealth. Two PARCC Fellows will join us on October 22 for this discussion to provide insights into how the field is responding to the opportunities and challenges that PARCC will bring.

As we discussed in September, our assessment team at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is deeply engaged in every aspect of PARCC design and development. PARCC has adopted many of the "best practices" used in Massachusetts, and other states, while also offering innovations that hold great promise for a next generation assessment. We will review how the design and development of PARCC assessment items and tasks contribute to my judgment that it is on track to be even better and stronger than MCAS.

At the heart of the PARCC assessment are the items. These include not only multiple choice ("selected response") and open ended ("constructed response") items, but also extended performance tasks and technology enhanced items. We will bring examples of these items and tasks to the October 22 meeting so that Board members can learn more about the quality of the test items and how students and teachers will experience the PARCC assessments.

Like MCAS, the PARCC assessments are designed to support the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Unlike MCAS, PARCC is being designed to provide complete student level results in June of each school year. These more timely results, combined with a variety of PARCC-aligned teacher tools for use during classroom instruction (e.g., speaking and listening assessments, grades K-1 formative assessments, grades 2-8 diagnostic assessments, model content frameworks, prototype assessment tasks, and professional development modules), give teachers a great opportunity to use the assessment system to support effective teaching and learning. At our October meeting we will discuss how both the early reporting of PARCC assessment results and the PARCC-aligned teacher tools can be used by teachers, schools and districts in support of more effective instruction that is targeted to close proficiency gaps and increase the academic achievement and growth of all students.

Senior Associate Commissioner Bob Bickerton and other members of the Department's assessment team, as well as two of the PARCC Fellows, will be at the Board meeting to present the PARCC prototype assessment items and respond to your questions.

Last Updated: October 17, 2013
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