State issues latest test scores as key decision nears

88 percent of 10th-graders in the Class of 2017 met the graduation requirement by passing MCAS

BOSTON (AP) — Public school students in third through eighth grades who took the PARCC exams last spring were less likely to perform well on that test than those who took the traditional MCAS exams, the state education department said Monday in releasing results from both.

Massachusetts has been giving PARCC — short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — a trial run in some communities to help the board of education determine if it should replace MCAS as the state’s primary educational assessment tool and graduation requirement for high school students. A decision is expected in November.

State education officials were quick to downplay the significance of the first partial scores from the PARCC exam.

“This early report on PARCC results is preliminary and incomplete and therefore cannot yet be directly compared to this year’s MCAS results,” Secretary of Education James Peyser said in a statement.

Statewide, 88 percent of 10th-graders in the Class of 2017 met the graduation requirement by passing MCAS — short for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System — on their first try, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a percentage that has been unchanged for the past three years.

The department also said the percentage of students who scored proficient or higher on the English language, math and science portions of MCAS rose for most grade levels, while the results also continued to show a modest narrowing of the achievement gap between white and minority students in many areas.

In 2015, the state for the first time gave school districts the option of administering PARCC or MCAS to students in third through eighth grade. Officials said 54 percent of districts statewide chose PARCC. All 10th-graders were still required to take MCAS.

PARCC is aligned with federal Common Core standards that have been adopted in about 40 states but have become a rallying point for critics who say they interfere with states’ abilities to shape their own educational blueprints. Common Core supporters say the curriculum better prepares students for college and 21st-century careers.

Monday’s results appeared to show that students who took the computerized PARCC test did not generally fare as well as those who took MCAS, officials said. In all but the fourth grade, MCAS takers were more likely to score in the proficient or higher range than PARCC takers were to score in the “meeting expectations” range.

Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said the scores would form a “baseline” for comparison with other states that administer PARCC and Massachusetts’ own progress should the board choose PARCC as the statewide standard.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a group that backs PARCC, said the preliminary results weren’t surprising given the more rigorous and complex nature of the test.

“These results renew our confidence in the PARCC test,” said Linda Noonan, the group’s executive director.

School districts that opted for PARCC were given the choice of administering the test on a computer or using pencil and paper, though if PARCC is ultimately adopted, all students would have to use a computer. About 40 percent of PARCC takers used pencil and paper, and those scores weren’t immediately released.

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