A DAY AFTER a group of Massachusetts educators called on the state to adopt the new PARCC test, Boston-based Pioneer Institute issued a detailed report calling the Common Core-aligned PARCC test a flawed assessment and urging the state to reject its implementation and instead revise the state-based MCAS exam. Pioneer also rejected a third option being floated by state education officials – a hybrid MCAS-PARCC exam that would draw heavily on the new Common Core-based test.

Revising and updating MCAS, rather than adopting PARCC, “would result in lower costs and more rigorous assessments that would provide better information about student performance,” said Pioneer.

State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and Education Secretary Jim Peyser said last week they are pursuing a hybrid plan that would maintain MCAS but update it by building off the PARCC test, which was developed by a consortium of states following the 2010 introduction of the Common Core standards.

Jim Stergios
Pioneer Institute executive director Jim Stergios

Pioneer has long advocated maintaining state control of the K-12 assessment, but it does not support a revamped MCAS based heavily on PARCC. “We are all for an MCAS 2.0,” Jim Stergios, Pioneer’s executive director, said following last week’s announcement. “But that means MCAS should be the starting point not PARCC.”

The new Pioneer report identifies what it says are six major flaws in the PARCC tests. They range from poorly worded and structured test items to writing prompts that the authors say “do not elicit the kind of writing done in college or the real world of work.”

Although an aim of Common Core and the PARCC assessment developed from it was to boost the competitive standing of US students internationally, the study says “PARCC bears little resemblance to testing programs our overseas competitors use.”

The report also faults PARCC’s modeling of writing skills and vocabulary acquisition, saying the test relies on “ineffective pedagogical practices that have already been studied and found wanting.”

“At the root of PARCC’s weaknesses are the Common Core standards,” says the report from Pioneer, which has been the leading source nationally of research reports critical of the new academic benchmarks, which the Obama administration aggressively supported.

The report calls on the state to abandon the PARCC test and phase out the use of Common Core standards that Massachusetts adopted in 2010. It calls on the state to put an organization independent of the state education department in charge of developing standards and a revised MCAS test going forward.

The report was coauthored by Mark McQuillan, a former Connecticut state education commissioner; Richard Phelps, an author of several books on testing; and Sandra Stotsky, a former University of Arkansas professor and senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts state education department.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is slated to vote at its November 17 meeting on what assessment the state will use. The state education department oversaw a two-year “test drive” of the PARCC exams, with an eye toward a vote this fall to either adopt the new test or stick with MCAS.

Chester’s announcement that he will pursue a third option has cast uncertainty over the testing decision. He has yet to put forward a formal proposal of the hybrid plan he first outlined last week.