On November 17, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will vote on whether to replace MCAS, the state’s 17-year-old testing system, with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessment, or something policymakers are referring to as “MCAS 2.0” – a test of uncertain content and format that could take years to develop.
The vote has raised concerns for stakeholders ranging from parents and principals to politicians. As teachers, the choice for us is clear: the PARCC assessment makes good sense for students in Massachusetts. Many of us have been preparing students for the PARCC assessment for two years and implementing the standards it measures for five. Some of us, including those who teach in Boston Public Schools, administered a pilot PARCC assessment last year instead of MCAS. We have observed consistently that the rigor of the assessment has a positive impact on our teaching at all grade levels.
Pre-kindergarten through second grade teachers have begun setting the foundation for success in third grade – the first grade of mandated PARCC testing – with a focus on the skills that are essential for success on PARCC: analyzing, interpreting, and citing evidence. It’s no coincidence that these are also skills essential for success in life.
In one of our classrooms, students read about plant life cycles. They use the texts to debate the most effective growing conditions for beans, and then run tests with controlled and experimental conditions. They end by writing about their findings, and critique one another’s conclusions. This is the kind of next-generation instruction the PARCC assessment not only inspires, but demands.
And our students reap the benefits.
In upper grade level writing, students are becoming responsible for synthesizing multiple texts in order to develop and defend original theses. This is a level of rigor in which many in our generation did not engage until college – but it is precisely what college professors in freshman writing courses will require.
Students in one of our ninth grade classrooms spend weeks preparing for the writing demands of PARCC by analyzing the age of Imperialism. They read primary source accounts of both Indians and British during the British occupation of India as well as analyzing poems, cartoons and other popular media of the day. Citing a minimum of six sources, they draw their own conclusions about greater impact of Imperialism by analyzing how Imperialism transformed both the colonizer and the colonized societies. This is deep work for 14- and 15-year-olds, and PARCC is pushing teachers to set up the kind of classrooms where it can happen.
The BESE vote next month is not just about what kind of assessment students in Massachusetts will take. Equally important, it is about how we, as teachers, will prepare our students to succeed in the next phase of their lives, It is about presenting clear and decisive expectations for what Massachusetts educators must prepare students to be able to do.
MCAS was never meant to assess college and career readiness. MCAS 2.0, “PARCC-Lite,” or whatever we call a proposed hybrid alternative, could take years to develop, with its potential content unclear. That’s time we don’t have, and ambiguity we don’t need.
The PARCC assessment is the only option that demands phenomenal teaching right now, and that is what students in Massachusetts deserve.
Gwendolin Bandi, John J. Doran School, Fall River Public Schools
Jeff Cipriani, Orchard Gardens K-8, Boston Public Schools
Colleen Considine, Curtis Guild Elementary School, Boston Public Schools
Dan Hackett, Boston Latin Academy, Boston Public Schools
Amy Howland, Academy of the Pacific Rim, Hyde Park
Natalie Khalatov-Krimnus, Revere High School, Revere Public Schools
Carli Kusiolek, Salem Academy Charter School, Salem
Colleen Labbe, Lee Academy Pilot School, Boston Public Schools
Erin Lane, Garfield Middle School, Revere Public Schools
Wing Leung, Boston Latin School, Boston Public Schools
Bernadine Lormilus, Winthrop Elementary School, Boston Public Schools
Farida Mama, UP Academy Dorchester, Boston Public Schools
Colleen Mason, Lee Academy Pilot School, Boston Public Schools
Kalimah Rahim, New Mission High School, Boston Public Schools
Amanda Schreckengaust, Brookline High School, Brookline Public Schools
Aaron Stone, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Boston Public Schools
Brittany Vetter, Excel Academy Charter School, Chelsea