The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Preparing for Potential Transition from MCAS to PARCC as High School Graduation Requirement and to Establish College Readiness

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
April 18, 2014.

At the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday evening, April 28, 2014, we will have an initial discussion of the possible implementation of PARCC assessments in high school. Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland will join us on Monday evening for this discussion. We will discuss options for transition of the high school Competency Determination (CD) requirements - that is, the state standards that students must meet to qualify for high school graduation - to include PARCC assessments. We will also discuss how students could benefit from achieving PARCC college readiness certification in English Language Arts/literacy and mathematics. We will continue our discussion of PARCC during our regular meeting on Tuesday; a separate memorandum will provide you with more information regarding this item on the agenda.

Currently, students in Massachusetts take ELA and mathematics MCAS tests in grades 3-8 and 10. The PARCC assessment system is designed to assess students in ELA/literacy and mathematics in grades 3-11, introducing two new grade-level assessments to Massachusetts students: grade 9 and grade 11. With the addition of state assessments in grades 9 and 11, options expand for how students can earn their CD and also earn the PARCC college readiness determinations in ELA/literacy and mathematics. The array of PARCC high school assessments offers high school students multiple opportunities to demonstrate they are on track for graduation and for successful entry into college and careers.

The PARCC transition timeline that the Board adopted in November 2013 made a commitment that, at least through the class of 2018, students would continue to meet the ELA and mathematics CD requirement through the current grade 10 MCAS tests/retests. The April 28th Board discussion is the first in a series of discussions we will have over the next year and a half about how we might transition the CD requirement from MCAS to PARCC for students beyond the class of 2018.

Competency Determination (CD) Requirements


Mass. General Laws c. 69, § 1D, added by the Education Reform Act of 1993, authorizes the Board to establish academic standards for the competency determination (CD), based on the curriculum frameworks approved by the Board, and requires students to earn the CD as a condition for high school graduation. In January 2000, the Board adopted regulations implementing the CD requirement as a criterion for high school graduation beginning with students in the class of 2003.

Since 2000, the Board has amended the regulations several times. Under the current regulations at 603 CMR 30.03, to earn the CD, students in the class of 2010 and beyond must earn either a scaled score of at least 240 on the grade 10 MCAS ELA and mathematics tests, or earn a scaled score between 220 and 238 on these tests and fulfill the requirements of an Education Proficiency Plan (EPP). (Students must also earn a CD in Science and Technology/Engineering by earning a scaled score of at least 220 on one of the high school MCAS end-of-course tests in Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/Engineering.) The high school MCAS ELA and mathematics assessments are designed to measure how well students have mastered content in ELA and mathematics through 10th grade; they are "end-of-domain" assessments.

How Might Massachusetts Transition CD Requirements to Include PARCC Assessments?

Should the Board vote to adopt PARCC, a decision must be made as to which of the new assessments will replace the grade 10 MCA ELA and mathematics tests for the CD requirement. The PARCC ELA/literacy high school assessments assess students in grades 9-11. For mathematics, PARCC will develop and administer end-of-course assessments for two pathways: a traditional pathway (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, although not necessarily in that order); and an integrated pathway (Mathematics I, Mathematics II, Mathematics III). This shift from end-of-domain to end-of-course assessments presents CD policy opportunities as students will be assessed upon completion of a course and not necessarily at a designated grade (i.e., not necessarily at grade 10). See table below.

PARCC High School Assessments
ELA Math
Traditional Integrated
ELA 1 ALG 1 IM 1
ELA 2 Geometry IM 2
ELA 3 ALG 2 IM 3
right parenthses
Options for a PARCC CD
  • A student takes the first two PARCC high school tests in both ELA and mathematics
  • MA could establish passing criteria based upon 2 minimum scores and/or 1 combined score in each content area

These as well as other considerations and options will serve as a starting point for our discussions concerning the CD requirements for ELA and math.

If the Board ultimately does adopt PARCC as the CD requirement, you may want to consider allowing students in graduating classes during the transition period to earn their CD through either the grade 10 MCAS tests or the new PARCC requirement. Ohio used a similar approach as the state transitioned from an earlier graduation test to an updated graduation assessment.

PARCC College Readiness Determinations in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics

Massachusetts has a historic opportunity to establish far greater coordination between public K-12 and higher education as our students transition from high school to college. Currently, students who are accepted to our public campuses take a placement exam to determine the first-year course in mathematics and English to which they will be assigned; there is no consideration of performance on MCAS when making the placement decision.

Every public institution of higher education in our state has committed that student attainment of a PARCC college-ready determination in ELA/literacy and/or mathematics will result in placement directly into entry-level, credit-bearing courses for accepted students, without the need for further placement assessments. The college-ready determination will provide policymakers, educators, parents, and students with a clear signal about the level of academic preparation needed for success in these postsecondary courses. It will provide a strong indicator of college readiness that can be used to set performance goals at each grade level and show progress towards those goals. Finally, students who attain a college-ready determination in ELA/literacy and/or mathematics will experience a tangible benefit: direct entry into relevant entry-level, credit-bearing courses without need for remediation.

Meaning of the College-Ready Determinations

A student who is determined to be college-ready through performance on the PARCC high school assessments is one who has demonstrated the academic knowledge, skills, and practices in ELA/literacy or mathematics necessary to enter directly into and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in those content areas in programs leading to a credential or degree from two- and four-year public institutions of higher education1. PARCC will make separate college-ready determinations in ELA/literacy and in mathematics, as follows:

The PARCC college readiness standard is consistent with, and aligned with, the college and career readiness definition that the Boards of Higher Education and of Elementary and Secondary Education jointly adopted.

Remedial ("developmental education") courses have negative consequences for far too many Massachusetts students. Currently, more than one-third of our high school graduates-students who have earned their CD through the current MCAS tests and have met local requirements-are placed into one or more remedial college courses in which they do not earn credit toward a degree. These students are at far higher risk of dropping out of college. In fact, only about 20 percent of those who must enroll in two or more remedial classes will earn a college diploma; 80 percent will drop out of their college program without earning a degree or certificate.

To use the PARCC college-ready determination to place students into entry-level, credit-bearing courses, higher education institutions may impose additional conditions, such as requiring students to take additional courses in high school that build on the standards used to make the college-ready determination.


The grade-by-grade nature of the PARCC high school assessments and the commitments of our public higher education partners provide the foundation for state policy decisions that would enable more and more students to earn a determination of college readiness. To make those policy decisions thoughtfully over the next year and a half, we will need to weigh several f ctors such as:

I look forward to our opening discussion at the April 28th special meeting.