Common Core Assessments

As Results Trickle In, State Ed Leaders Build Case for Sticking with PARCC

Now that results are being released for last spring's Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments, state education representatives face the challenge of explaining what the bad news means to their constituents. Some states may choose to stick with their own assessments, which show better results. In other places, leaders are holding tight and educating the public about why their states need to reboot their expectations for student learning.

In Massachusetts, for example, the state is "test-driving" the PARCC assessments for two years. In the last school year districts could choose whether to give the PARCC test or its own MCAS exam. The exception was the 10th grade MCAS, which remains a graduation requirement through at least the class of 2019 and was administered in all high schools.

The new statewide PARCC results showed that in most grades and subjects, students who took PARCC math and English language arts (ELA) tests were less likely to score in the "meeting expectations" range than MCAS students were to score "proficient" or above. The exception was in grade 4, where the percent of students who scored in the "meeting expectations" range on the PARCC test and the percent of students who scored proficient or above on MCAS were the same for math. In English language arts, a higher percentage of fourth graders scored in the "meeting expectations" range on PARCC than scored proficient or above on MCAS.

The latest overall low results for PARCC are reminiscent of what happened when the state first gave MCAS in 1998. At that time the percent of students statewide who scored proficient or better ranged from 20 percent in grade 4 English language arts (for 2015 it's 53 percent) to 55 percent for grade 8 ELA (now 80 percent). In most grades and subjects the results were less than 40 percent. Now most proficient results for MCAS range between 60 and 72 percent..

The department said its high school PARCC results weren't representative of the state as a whole, since relatively few gave PARCC tests in grades 9 and 11 because of the 10th grade MCAS requirement.

The board for Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to vote in that state in mid-November on whether to adopt PARCC formally for English language arts and mathematics.

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is making a push to keep PARCC. "These statewide PARCC scores will help establish a baseline for comparison with other PARCC states and with our own progress over time should the board choose to adopt PARCC within our statewide assessment," he said in a prepared statement.

In New Jersey and Maryland, state education leaders positioned the results as "setting a new baseline."

In New Jersey, where PARCC tests replaced the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) and High School Proficiency Assessment, most students didn't meet grade-level expectations for math; and four out of nine grade levels just squeaked by in meeting ELA expectations.

"This first year's results show there is still much work to be done in ensuring all of our students are fully prepared for the 21st century demands of college and career," said Education Commissioner David Hespe in a statement.

With the previous NJ ASK test, there were some schools where every student was proficient, and some schools where a third of the study body received a perfect score. Yet results for New Jersey students in other forms of assessments suggested less proficiency. In recent years, SAT, ACT and National Assessment for Educational Progress have reported that only about four in 10 of New Jersey students are leaving high school fully prepared for college or career.

As a result, when students head into college, "too many of their tuition dollars are spent on remediation courses to learn skills that should have been mastered in high school," pointed out Joel Bloom, president of NJ Institute of Technology. "This is a real problem, but higher expectations and standards and high-quality assessments are a part of the solution."

Unlike Massachusetts, New Jersey is committed to the new assessments. "Now that the statewide results are in," said Hespe, "I know our school leaders are taking the steps necessary, such as making adjustments to their curricula, targeting professional learning activities for teachers and engaging parents and communities to ensure that all New Jersey students receive a world-class education."

Maryland's Department of Education said its PARCC results are hitting "the reset button." In that state, education officials cherry-picked data to share and offered some breakdowns by student subset. In Algebra I, as an example, 69 percent of students failed to meet grade-level expectations. While 62 percent of Asian students scored at grade-level expectations or higher in that subject, 13 percent of African American students, 17 percent of Hispanic students and 45 percent of White students did so. Among students receiving free or reduced meals 13 percent met expectations; among limited English proficient students, 6.5 percent did so.

In English 10 six in 10 students failed to meet grade-level expectations. Again 62 percent of Asian students did perform at grade level, while 25 percent of African American students, 27.5 percent of Hispanic students and 50 percent of White students did so.

"The initial PARCC results represent a new starting line for Maryland students, teachers and families as we strive to better prepare our students to get on track for success after graduation," said Interim State Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith in a statement. "But it is important to recognize that this data is only a snapshot; it's one additional measure to use when viewing the progress of our students, along with many other factors. This is a challenging assessment, and the data reflects that."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.