FAQ – PARCC and Common Core

1What is happening with PARCC and Common Core in Massachusetts this fall?
On November 17, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on statewide adoption of the PARCC test. A “yes” vote by the board would substitute PARCC for the state’s current statewide assessment tool – the MCAS, a 17-year-old patchwork of tests never intended to measure career- or college-readiness. The board’s vote follows a two-year PARCC pilot program. There is currently no upcoming decision or vote on the Common Core and the PARCC vote is focused only on whether we remake the state MCAS exam or go with the more rigorous assessment tool in PARCC. There is a proposed initiative petition for the 2016 ballot that would repeal the Common Core standards in Massachusetts, but it is not yet on the ballot. Proponents of the proposed initiative petition must gather the signatures of 64,750 registered voters by Dec. 2, 2015 in order to put the proposal before the state Legislature. Then, if the Legislature fails to enact the proposal by May, proponents must gather another 10,792 signatures by early July 2016 in order for it to appear on the November 2016 ballot.
2Why should Massachusetts adopt PARCC?
We owe it to Massachusetts students to make sure that they graduate high school with a diploma that signals their readiness to thrive in college and in the workplace. Anything less is short-sighted and short-changes the next generation. Although 91 percent of 10th graders scored “proficient” or “advanced” in this year’s MCAS exams, 37 percent of students who pass MCAS and go on to attend Massachusetts state colleges must take non-credit bearing remedial courses in math or English. At community colleges, that remedial rate is 65 percent. Feedback here in Massachusetts and around the country tells us that PARCC has the potential to be a much better predictor of college- and career readiness than MCAS. MCAS was never intended to serve that purpose.
3What do school teachers think about using PARCC as a measure of students’ progress and a predictor of their post-high school success?
A: PARCC has been used in many Massachusetts schools under a pilot program for two years and is proving popular in the classroom. In a recent Teach Plus survey, 71 percent of teachers preferred PARCC to MCAS and strongly recommended that BESE adopt PARCC statewide.
4How was PARCC developed?
Educators and education experts across a dozen states contributed to the effort to design and develop of the PARCC test. Massachusetts had a significant leadership role, with hundreds of administrators and teachers here participating in the creation and refinement of the PARCC test and individual questions.
5If we need a better, updated way to assess college- and career-readiness, why not just tweak the statewide test we already have – MCAS?
PARCC is the next generation of MCAS, it is the natural successor to the work done in Massachusetts and, in fact, Massachusetts education leaders were instrumental in its creation, development and refinement. We know from experience in other states that reverting back to a test developed solely in state is a lengthy and costly process. PARCC is aligned to the core curriculum being taught in Massachusetts schools, and holds our students to the high standards necessary to prepare them for college and careers.
6Why have other states dropped out of the PARCC Consortium?
In all cases, states that have sidelined PARCC have done so due to political pressure from anti-Common Core forces, and not because of test results or quality or any other substantive reason pertaining to the assessment itself. Massachusetts education leaders should maintain our high standards and refuse to cave into that type of national pressure.
7Who are the main proponents of Common Core and PARCC in Massachusetts?
The broad group of organizations and individuals supporting PARCC and Common Core include educational experts, teachers, employers, state and community college presidents, and non-profit organizations concerned about equitable opportunities for all children to access a better education and improve their quality of life.
8What do Massachusetts colleges and universities think about PARCC?
Institutions of higher education want new students to arrive not just with a high school diploma, but with the higher level skills needed to hit the ground running, thrive and succeed. As evidence of this, every one of Massachusetts’ community college and state college and university presidents signed a letter indicating their commitment to using performance on the PARCC tests as an indicator of students’ readiness for entry-level, credit-bearing courses.
9What do you say to parents who are used to seeing their children excel on MCAS tests and may see a drop off in performance when they take PARCC assessments?
It is possible – even likely – that children who were previously ranked “proficient” on MCAS will score below standard on PARCC. The two tests amount of apples and oranges, and it is important to note that lower test scores do not mean students are performing any worse. Instead, it indicates that we have raised the bar, setting higher expectations for student learning focused on what students need to succeed in the world today. Setting a realistic baseline and being truthful about how our students are performing is the right thing to do – and an important step toward ensuring that all students cross the stage at graduation truly prepared to move on to college or career. Continuing to paint a false picture is short-sighted, misleads parents, and – most importantly – fails the next generation.
10I’ve heard there are some upcoming decisions in Massachusetts regarding Common Core and PARCC. What are Common Core and PARCC and how are they related?
Although strongly related, Common Core and PARCC are two separate things. The Common Core is a set of clear college- and career-ready standards, or learning goals, for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a state-of-the-art system of assessment that uses technology to measure a broad set of knowledge and skills directly indicative of college- and career-readiness. Aligned to the Common Core standards, PARCC covers math and English language arts/literacy in grades three through high school.
11Why should Massachusetts adopt PARCC, which is aligned to Common Core, at a time when there is movement to repeal Common Core itself?
First, the possibility that a repeal of Common Core will be on the ballot in Massachusetts in 2016 is a big question at this point. Proponents of the proposed initiative petition must gather the signatures of 64,750 registered voters by Dec. 2, 2015 in order to move to the next step in the process – putting it before the state Legislature to enact before the first Wednesday in May 2016. If the Legislature fails to enact the proposal, proponents must gather another 10,792 signatures by early July 2016 in order to secure its place on the November 2016 ballot. We are clearly in the early days of this process, with nothing close to a guarantee that the question will be placed before voters – let alone pass. Second, no matter what happens with the proposed Common Core ballot question, Massachusetts will need statewide standards for college- and career-readiness. Significant time and resources have already been invested in PARCC as an effective way to assess whether students are prepared for college and/or living wage jobs after high school. And, it has been field tested in 300 school districts across the state. To reject PARCC and develop a new test would mean spending millions of dollars to craft a new assessment tool that would likely look a lot like PARCC but lack its positive two-year track record.
12Is Common Core a move by the federal government to control the public education process, taking autonomy away from the states? Is it a national curriculum?
No. Common Core is not a curriculum at all. It is a set of consistent standards for what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade, in each content area, which educators in Massachusetts and 41 other states use to develop lesson plans, choose textbooks, and create curriculum (the District of Columbia, four US territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have also adopted Common Core). Common Core is and will remain a state-led initiative. State education chiefs and governors in 48 states developed the Common Core through a voluntary effort. Massachusetts, through its Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted to adopt the Common Core into the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy in 2010. Common Core does not dictate how lessons are taught, leaving the choice of curriculum courses and materials up to local educators. In fact, state educators have augmented the Common Core standards with elements unique to Massachusetts – known as “Common Core Plus.”
13Does Common Core put any restrictions on what teachers can teach – either in terms of content or, with regard to math, level of difficulty?
No. Teachers develop the curriculum and have freedom to assign specific books and texts to help students develop critical thinking skills. And there is no limit on the level of math that can be taught.
14How does Common Core enhance career- and college-readiness?
Developed with input from teachers, administrators, and education experts from across the US, including many in Massachusetts, Common Core standards are built upon the most advanced thinking regarding how to prepare all students – not just those who attend affluent, high performance schools – for success in college, careers, and life in general after high school. Recognizing that today’s high school graduates must be ready to compete successfully in a global marketplace, the developers of Common Core borrowed from best practices not just across the US but internationally as well. These 21st century standards move the nation’s students away from rote learning, and strongly toward critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical writing - skills they will need to meet college and career expectations.
15I’ve heard it isn’t practical to implement PARCC, a computer-based assessment, statewide because many schools lack the technology to administer it.
According to data presented at a September 2015 BESE meeting, 75 percent of Massachusetts schools had adequate computer technology for PARCC assessments as of the start of the 2014-15 school year. We must address the deficit and face up to the fact that our schools remain behind many other states integrating educational technology into the classroom to improve instruction and provide tools for personalized learning. We cannot, however, use this as an excuse not to ensure we have high standards in Massachusetts and an assessment which truly measures student readiness for college and careers.