PARCC Over Politics? My Hope for Massachusetts

It makes sense that Massachusetts sits at the top of the K-12 education rankings consistently. While so many states struggle with mediocre standards, poor student performance and cultures of low educational expectations, Massachusetts has always been the model, the aspiration. And deservedly so. The Bay State has shown itself to be a leader on the education front, a trailblazer when it comes to high standards for all kids and the requirement that all kids pass a consistent assessment in order to earn a high school diploma. Despite rigorous debate, it’s clear that reform policies have resulted in better learning and schools for Massachusetts children. Ninety percent of students in Massachusetts continue to pass the MCAS and are deemed ready for what comes next, whether it be college, work or military service. But not so fast. Three urban superintendents, including Boston Public Schools’ Tommy Chang, have testified about the importance of moving away from MCAS and adopting PARCC. In his prepared remarks before the board of Elementary and Secondary Education, he commented:
In order for us to diagnose, plan, support and assess the transformation needed for teaching and learning and the types of cognitively demanding tasks our youth are doing, we need assessments that match the rigor required in the Common Core. As a principal leader recently stated, “Teaching to this test is better teaching.”
And the evidence is clear: Massachusetts students are not prepared for college and career. Despite strong results during their K-12 years, they are not equipped with the skills required to thrive in America’s quickly changing economy. The world has changed and public education is racing to keep up, with Massachusetts remaining ahead of the pack. Truth be told, remediation rates are a big piece of the puzzle. I assumed that Massachusetts couldn’t possibly be bogged down with high remediation rates. I was dead wrong. In a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe it was reported:
When Massachusetts adopted the MCAS nearly 20 years ago, students struggled to clear the bar. Today, proficiency rates are at 90 percent. Contrast that with data on the preparation of students when they enter college or the workforce and the expectations gap becomes clear: 37 percent of our high school graduates (all of whom presumably passed the MCAS exam) need to take remedial courses when they arrive in one of our public colleges. That number jumps to 65 percent in our community colleges.
As is seemingly always the case, politics has gotten in the way of of staying the course on PARCC in Massachusetts. In the wake of pressure from special interests, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has made a sudden pivot to a hybrid model for testing, but laid out no implementation timeline or cost details for those who have already worked tirelessly to make PARCC a success in their buildings. Chester has long been a supporter of PARCC; in fact, he chairs the board that governs the PARCC consortium. But alas, politics has gotten in the way. Perhaps the Metrowest Daily News editorial page has summed it up best for those of us who believe PARCC is the best way to go but also know the power of politics.
We like PARCC, but we care about what the test achieves, not what it’s called. If they are to change course yet again, Mitchell, Peyser and the board must assure the option they recommend is educationally sound, not just politically expedient.
Let's make it so our graduates can stop paying for classes in college that they should have already taken and for which they will receive zero credit. Yeah. Let's do that.  
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. An earlier version of this post appeared on her blog.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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