Massachusetts Board of Education votes to drop PARCC tests


Credit: Nathan Zhao

Shown above is a standardized test answer sheet and pencil. The Massachusetts Board of Education voted on November 23 to reject Common Core standards and to design a different test. “I think [Common Core] is good since the entire country can compare results and then target areas that are not doing as well as others,” freshman Spencer Lee said.

The Massachusetts Board of Education voted to reject PARCC standardized testing based on Common Core standards last Monday, concluding that it would create new statewide MCAS standardized testing and academic achievement measures in place of the current MCAS and PARCC evaluation tests.

According to its website, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts that outline what each student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The website notes that these standards were created “to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”

The Common Core is based on the philosophy of Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts commissioner of education. He states that a national test can ensure each state’s and school’s ability to produce well-off students. In 2009, the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test was adopted to pursue this goal. 42 states follow the Common Core standards, but only 17 take PARCC tests.

Massachusetts adopted the PARCC Common Core standards in 2010 and began PARCC testing in the 2014 to 2015 school year. Wayland chose to administer the PARCC test over the alternative MCAS test last year.

The formats of PARCC and MCAS are different. PARCC gives students a choice between an “advanced” and a “regular” testing section for mathematics. Honors level math students take the “advanced” level while college and introductory level math students take the “regular” level. With MCAS, every student takes the same test. Additionally, PARCC tests are scaled while MCAS tests are not.

But since PARCC’s inception, it has been critiqued by many students and parents, as reported in a PBS article. Protests in several states complain of technical testing problems, the difficulty level of the test itself and the inability of the test to produce accurate representations of student knowledge.

Monday’s vote to drop out of PARCC testing (but still keeping Common Core standards) signals a change and a response to the numerous protests. Chester, the same man who pioneered the Common Core program, called for Massachusetts’s withdrawal.

According to a recent New York Times article, Massachusetts has long been regarded as one of the nation’s leaders in education reform, and is known to have students that excel in international tests, most recently beating all other countries (except for Singapore) in science. For such a state to drop out of PARCC testing shows the start of a possible change in America’s take on the tests and the Common Core philosophy.

For freshman Spencer Lee, the vote on Monday doesn’t mean much, and he maintains a positive impression of Common Core.

“I think [Common Core] is good since the entire country can compare results and then target areas that are not doing as well as others,” Lee said. “It is effective and shows what students know and do not know compared to others.”

Lee believes standardized testing is important for figuring out how well an area of the country does compared to others.

“[Standardized testing] allows for us to see how the United States is doing as a whole and discover areas certain schools are lacking or excelling in,” Lee said. “This also allows us to compare ourselves to other countries.”

English Department Head Brian Keaney has a negative opinion of MCAS and PARCC testing system.

“The MCAS tests are much too long,” Keaney said. “The ELA gives two days of reading comprehension questions when at most it should be done in one.”

According to Keaney, the money spent toward MCAS shouldn’t be used to administer and create the tests. Instead, it should be used to develop school systems less successful in standardized testing.

“It seems like generally all of the students from wealthier communities, as a whole, tend to do better than students in less wealthy communities,” Keaney said. “So instead of using all that money to create the test, why don’t we take that money and put it towards the schools in those less wealthy communities?”

But most of all, Keaney argues it isn’t the money that is the biggest problem; it is the wasting of time.

“Keep it as least intrusive as possible,” Keaney said. “I just think it is demoralizing to students to have so much testing.”