Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chester and door number 3

At last night's Board of Ed meeting, Commissioner Chester floated the notion of a third way between PARCC and MCAS:
“I am considering this new model, this door number three, that takes advantage of our access to PARCC development ... but uses that development for the construction of a MCAS 2.0, and gives us the running room to ensure that MCAS 2.0 is exactly the test that we want,” Chester told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at a special meeting focused on student assessment...
“Any path to MCAS 2.0 that involves PARCC must be a direction over which we have complete control,” Chester said, adding that the state must be able to customize any exam it gives to meet “our needs and desires.” Chester said that the board’s discussions so far and public comment on the exams have helped him realize the importance of Massachusetts retaining control. “It’s critical that we ensure our control of our standards and assessments, and not leave that to chance or to decisions of other states,” he said.
 Let's first of all--PLEASE--set aside any notion that this is totally coming out of nowhere. It was clear from last month's Board discussion that a number of members of the Board had what Professor Fryer termed "governance" concerns: in other words, who runs the show. As the argument from the beginning has been that it was important for Massachusetts to not only be in PARCC, but be on the Board of PARCC, and as Chester's position of chair of PARCC has repeatedly been defended as furthering this end, this isn't new. 
What is new is getting the Commissioner himself to a place where Massachusetts not just going with straight PARCC was going to fly. It's somewhat hard to back off when you've been chairing a board tasked with creating the test, and when you've been saying for months that states dropping out of PARCC has been purely political (I could link to my notes on that, but it would be multiple links!).
This is not to say that Massachusetts leaving (as it appears is being recommended) isn't political. It was impossible for me to read yesterday's column against PARCC by the Pioneer Institute without recalling who their first director was--Charlie Baker--and who their director was shortly after that--Jim Peyser. So as much as it pains me, no, it's impossible to view this through a purely educational lens.
But then, that's what got us into this mess in the first place. 
Instead, it's been clear in the Board meetings that there really isn't a plan B: we don't have a renewed contract for MCAS, we don't have a technical backup (beyond PARCC), and we're running up against deadlines all over the place. That was most particularly clear from Deputy Commissioner Wulfson's responses at the last meeting (that's the previous link), and how the state decides to deal with that remains to be seen (and here's hoping the Board thinks to ask!).

For all those, like me, who are waking up this morning wondering what would have happened in Massachusetts had just stayed out of Race to the Top all together and instead used this time to develop an actual authentic assessment, all eyes on Margaret McKenna:
Suffolk University President Margaret McKenna said she didn’t think either MCAS or PARCC was the answer, citing a recent report conducted by Mathematica Policy Research for the state Executive Office of Education, which found both tests to be comparable predictors of college readiness.
“We just need to start thinking maybe more creatively about how we get there,” McKenna said of developing a new exam.
 Count me in.

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