PARCC v. MCAS: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Over the last two years, Massachusetts Public Schools, among them Malden High School, have introduced a new standardized test that assesses the college readiness of students. This test replaces the initial MCAS test that students previously had to pass in order to graduate high school.

PARCC, also known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a multi-state test that has been introduced in public schools to align with the new standards set by the Commonwealth which “[emphasize] the critical thinking, communications, and problem solving skills students need to succeed in a competitive global economy and society.” In order to meet those standards, Massachusetts had to either amend the existing MCAS test by raising the “proficient” designation or adopt the PARCC. Massachusetts chose the latter.

When comparing the tests, it has been found that there are not many substantial differences between PARCC and MCAS. Both serve as accurate and efficient tools to determine potential college grades, and therefore college readiness. However, the only minor difference is that both tests predict college readiness at slightly different degrees. Since PARCC is a technology based assessment, some view this as unfair to the less fortunate students in some high schools because not everyone has immediate access to the internet, or computers.  

Results for the PARCC assessment illustrated that there are more students who did not meet the standard expectation than not. Only 39 percent of ninth grade students received a qualifying score of four or five in the ELA, or English Language Arts, portion of the PARCC. These results suggest that the transfer from MCAS to PARCC has not been a desirable change. The data also suggests that since PARCC is a fairly new test, students might be experiencing a difficult time adapting to the new exam.

Statistics show that both the PARCC and the MCAS “do equally well in predicting college success,” according to Ira Nichols-Barrer, the author of substantial report on the two exams for Mathmatica Policy Research. However, each test possesses its own unique performance standard, essentially meaning that there are different areas that students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in. Since Massachusetts is one of eight states to participate in the PARCC exam consortium, its future decisions will help other states in deciding whether or not to keep their current statewide education assessments.

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