By Amelia Pak-Harvey
Just one week after Ohio dropped the Common Core-aligned PARCC test, the dominoes began to fall in Massachusetts.
As Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester came under fire for his chairmanship of the PARCC Governing Board, the group End Common Core launched a ballot initiative to stop Common Core in Massachusetts.
The case against the test is building, as teachers and parents across the state await the decision from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on whether Massachusetts will adopt it.
And although they ultimately don’t make the decision on the test, state legislators are expressing skepticism and caution about the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness test as well.
Rep. Jim Lyons, an Andover Republican, filed legislation the past two years to defund PARCC and Common Core. The bill was defeated both times.
“We’ve invested hundreds of billions of dollars in education in Massachusetts,” Lyons said. “We are the leaders in education in Massachusetts, and for the commonwealth — under the Patrick administration — to move away from the successful program without any input from parents, from teachers, from legislators is just simply wrong.”
Ohio’s departure from the consortium, Lyons said, “speaks volumes.”
“We’ve had a very successful program in Massachusetts,” he said. “I think before we change it, we ought to be convinced that it’s in the best interest in the education of our children.”
The state allowed districts to decide whether to adopt PARCC or stick with MCAS this school year.
Rep. Stephen DiNatale, whose Fitchburg district distributed PARCC this year, also signed on to a bill calling for a moratorium of the test. He said he’s heard concerns from parents and notes the loss of state autonomy that PARCC and Common Core bring.
“We’ve demonstrated that we have probably arguably, the finest education system in the nation,” he said. “I guess you could use the argument, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.'”
But DiNatale also has concern with high-stakes testing overall, and says he was not a huge fan of the MCAS exam in the past.
“I’d like to see work toward getting that moratorium in place so we can continue the debate, continue the discussion,” he said. “And if it’s so determined, then we moved forward with whatever we’re talking about, whether it be MCAS or PARCC.”
Rep. Colleen Garry of Dracut said Chester should step down as commissioner.
As long as he’s there, she said, there will not be a change.
“I feel that he is doing a disservice to the students of Massachusetts,” Garry said.
Garry co-sponsored a number of bills on PARCC, including one that creates a three-year moratorium on the test and the MCAS graduation requirement.
In Lowell, school officials have estimated the cost of administering the online PARCC test at $19.5 million.
Citing the technology burden that the online PARCC test can bring, Sen. Eileen Donoghue said the state is putting the cart before the horse.
“Those who were in favor of it, I’ve heard them say, ‘We’ll get there and we’ll be able to provide the resources necessary,'” she said. “But that hasn’t happened yet, and so I think that’s a big reach.”
PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the group has always said that technology should be purchased to enhance learning, not to give a test.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has maintained that it remains committed to open deliberation about whether PARCC is right for the state. They also note that Chester is undecided on his recommendation and that he is not paid for his role as a member of the PARCC Governing Board.
The department also cites the strong performance evaluation that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently issued for Chester.
Chester said in a statement that he was sorry to see Ohio leave the consortium, but the departure does not change the two-year, test-drive approach that Massachusetts is taking.
“States formed PARCC to build a stronger test than they could individually, and I hope states continue to take advantage of such cooperation,” he said.
At its height, PARCC had 24 states and D.C. in its testing consortium that could benefit from federal Race to the Top money by aligning with the Common Core State Standards. With Ohio gone, that number stands at 11 if Massachusetts still opts for the test.
Despite strong opposition to PARCC, one analysis from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education found that the test better identifies students who are college- and career-ready than an MCAS test that has remained “virtually unchanged” since 1998.
For Chelmsford parent Shanon Dahlstrom, a creator of the Stop Common Core Massachusetts social media group, there is still hope to end Common Core.
“A lot of us have just been watching this for two years, it’s just a constant stream of states leaving (PARCC), and they’re leaving because they’re completely dissatisfied,” she said. “All these other states haven’t left because they’re stupid. They’ve clearly left because they’re paying attention.”