Attacks on MCAS because of not producing “college-ready” graduates demonstrates lack of knowledge of test's purpose

BOSTON – Political realities dictate that, as with any tests, passing scores on those produced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for school and Careers (PARCC) is going to be set in a level that avoids through an unacceptable number of students fail. Since Massachusetts is definitely the greatest performing of the states that remain in the PARCC consortium, the commonwealth's K-12 education standards possess the farthest to fall, based on an insurance policy brief authored by Pioneer Institute.


“If a lot of students fail to get to the new threshold and therefore are denied diplomas, our education system seizes up,” said Dr. Richard P. Phelps, author of “Setting Academic Performance Standards: MCAS vs. PARCC.”

Massachusetts' bar for scoring “proficient” on MCAS is currently the second highest in the nation for 4th grade math, third highest for 4th grade reading, fourth highest for 8th grade math and 23rd for 8th grade reading. The composite rankings for rigor associated with definitions of proficiency within the 11 states which were still area of the PARCC consortium in August (it has since dropped to seven states and Washington, D.C.) was 27th in 4th grade math, 20.5 in 4th grade reading, 25.3 in 8th grade math and 25.One in 8th grade reading.

In this example, the inevitable reversion to the mean would translate to a one-half year stop by performance expectations for 4th grade math and reading and 8th grade math in Massachusetts.

Phelps also dissects a 2019 report from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education that claimed the national standards known as Common Core and also the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests would enhance the Commonwealth's standards.

“If the aim ended up being to raise standards, it could have been achieved without all the pain and expense related to Common Core and PARCC simply by raising the passing grade on MCAS,” said Pioneer Executive Director Jim Stergios.

Phelps claims that criticizing MCAS tests because not everyone who passes them is “college-ready” demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the tests' purpose. MCAS is really a retrospective, standards-based achievement test designed to figure out how well students have mastered the material included in Massachusetts' K-12 education standards.

Determining college readiness requires a completely different test – an aptitude or admission test made to predict future performance. Phelps states that if Massachusetts adopts PARCC, it's unclear the way the tests could help as a higher school exit examination.

Since federal legislation allows anyone who scores “proficient” on PARCC tests to join credit-bearing college coursework without taking a placement test, we will never determine if proficiency actually means college readiness.

If students are not college-ready as we currently define it, the result with time is a stop by standards for entry-level college coursework.

About the Author

Dr. Richard P. Phelps is editor or author of 4 books: Correcting Fallacies about Educational and Psychological Testing (APA, 2008/2009); Standardized Testing Primer (Peter Lang, 2007); Defending Standardized Testing (Psychology Press, 2005); and Kill the Messenger (Transaction, 2003, 2005), and founder of the Nonpartisan Education Review (