Business group: MCAS sets bar too low for employment demands

Says test is not rigorous enough to get students ready

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BOSTON (State House News Service) – A statewide business organization says the MCAS test does not adequately assess whether a high school student is ready for college or a career, primarily because the content of the test required for graduation is not demanding enough.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education compared MCAS to PARCC – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, which is based on national Common Core curriculum standards.

In Massachusetts, PARCC is undergoing a two-year tryout before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education votes in the fall on whether to implement PARCC statewide as the new assessment test.

Critics of the 17-year-old MCAS test say it is outdated and does not reflect necessary academic standards, while others opposed to changing the test say the state is moving too fast to replace it with PARCC. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has said it would be a disservice to Massachusetts students if the state did not move forward with the PARCC test trials.

The business alliance released a report Thursday that found there is a lack of alignment with college and career expectations that has widened the “skills gap” in the state, and has many in the business community concerned about finding qualified employees.

“The takeaway for us is there is no doubt it (MCAS) needs to be replaced,” Linda Noonan, executive director of the MBAE, told the News Service Tuesday.

The report’s findings concern the business community, Noonan said, because if graduates do not have the right credentials there are fewer people to take on existing or future jobs.

Researchers concluded that PARCC has a higher proficiency standard and prompts students to solve problems.

When the MCAS was developed nearly 20 years ago, the focus was on getting more students to graduate high school with proficient academic skills, Noonan said.

“MCAS was never designed to test higher-order thinking. It was designed to test basic proficiency. That just isn’t enough anymore,” she said.

The MCAS influences school curriculum, Noonan said, but it sets the bar too low for the demands of modern-day jobs.

“We are at a point, especially in Massachusetts, where a high school diploma is really not enough,” Noonan said, adding the number of jobs available to people with only high school diplomas is shrinking.

The PARCC test, which students take on a computer, gives them an opportunity to show what they have learned in a different format, not multiple choice questions, Noonan said.

Commissioned by MBAE, the study was conducted by the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, Inc., a non-profit based out of Dover, N.H. MBAE was formed in 1988 by employers concerned about the skills of graduates entering the workforce.

Researchers looked at whether the test is a good indicator that the student could manage entry-level college work; if the test contains the right content to measure college and career readiness; and whether the test allows for tracking a student’s progress over time.

According to the findings, the proficiency bar on the MCAS high school test is too low compared to other national assessment tests such as the SAT and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

In addition, a large percentage of college students have to take non-credit remedial courses once they get to state universities and community colleges, according to the study.

Researchers found that 36 percent of Massachusetts public high school graduates who passed the MCAS test enrolled in one or more non-credit, remedial courses in the state’s public colleges and universities, according to MBAE.

“Essentially kids lose time and they spend money taking those courses, whether it is a Pell grant or paid for out of their own pockets,” Noonan said.

The report also stated that MCAS grade-level tests were developed at different times, leading to inconsistency in the structure of the test across grade levels.

The business alliance called the findings disturbing considering 72 percent of all jobs in the state are predicted to require a secondary degree by 2020.

Rick Lord, president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said the state needs to graduate students with higher academic standards.

“Massachusetts is not realizing its economic potential when we can’t fill the number and type of jobs our economy demands to remain a global leader,” Lord said in a statement.

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