Make no mistake about it. The new and improved testing that is coming at Massachusetts schools starting next spring is a debacle in the making.
Thanks to Tracy Novick for making some of the details more apparent to those interested in trying to stay informed about the new requirements. Read her latest post (link in previous sentence) and be prepared. Especially if you teach Grades 4 or 8.
To say that I am stunned that DESE might want to ramp up the move to computer-driven assessments would be an understatement. First of all, DESE just awarded the test contract to Measured Progress, the company responsible for MCAS 1.0. As pointed out in Ms. Novick’s post, this would be rather unremarkable except for the fact that Measured Progress’ subcontractor is none other than Pearson. And Pearson is responsible for…. if you’re answering PARCC Testing, you go to the head of the class. And for bonus points, exactly which Commissioner of Education sits on the PARCC Consortium Board? That’s right, Mitchell Chester. The Massachusetts Commissioner of Education can’t possibly have any influence in selecting a test contractor with a subcontractor connection to the (rejected) PARCC test. That would be preposterous.
For all tested grades, especially 3-8 (Grade 10 is still tied to MCAS as a graduation requirement), a newly developed test for the upcoming spring will be quite an interesting process. I know it was a long time ago, but when I took Educational Measurement classes, it was quite clear that test writing is not for dummies. Assessment items need to be tried out, revised, and normed. That takes time. MCAS 2.0 is scheduled for roll-out next Spring. To create test items, try them out, norm the test, print the test, and deliver the test to school districts in time for a Test Window of April 3 – May 26 (which, by the way, includes a school vacation week in the middle) seems like a mighty big mountain to climb. Unless of course, a portion of the test might have already been developed. As PARCC has.
So why should Grade 4 and Grade 8 teachers be concerned here? As if the above might not be concern enough, Grades 4 and 8 are required to administer this yet-to-be developed test on computers. This spring, many sources reported on documented evidence that students score lower on computerized tests than they do on traditional paper-pencil versions of the same test (see WAPO link here).
So to sum it up, our 4th and 8th grade students will take a yet-to-be developed high-stakes test using computers. The logistical demands for this are an unknown, the technology skill set is unknown, and the test items unwritten. What could possibly go wrong?
To me, the whole business seems like a case study for wag the dog. In my darker moments, the target test groups, Grades 4 and 8, have been selected to tip schools into under-performing categories. Urban students who have less exposure to rich technology experiences are going to struggle with an online test and those test results will not reflect the students’ knowledge of curriculum. The lower results will most likely tip Level 3 and Level 4 schools into lower performance categories which means…..
If you muttered more state take-overs (and privatization), you just went to the head of the class.