Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
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MCAS v PARCC as Indicators of College and Career Readiness

MBAEReport_CoverThis year, Massachusetts will make a decision as monumental as the one made in 1993 when the Commonwealth adopted standards-based education reforms that propelled us to the top of the nation on many measures of student achievement.  Our choice will be whether to continue with the state’s own Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests or to replace it with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exams being field-tested in schools this spring.  The decision will be made by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which could also propose another course of action.

This is not a new process.  Since education standards, known as the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, were put in place two decades ago to set common benchmarks for student learning across the state, these have been regularly updated along with the associated MCAS tests.  The most recent version of our standards has been implemented in schools since 2011.  Now, it is time to make sure our assessments are aligned with what is being taught and what students are expected to learn.

The stakes are high for employers who depend on a well-educated and highly skilled workforce to thrive and grow.  What Massachusetts chooses to assess inevitably influences what is taught in schools, how it is taught, which curriculum and materials are used, and, ultimately, whether students graduate ready to succeed.  It is apparent from our high remediation rates at public colleges and universities, and the skills gap that employers contend with daily, that our current measures are not aligned with college and career expectations.

MBAE commissioned this study to determine how well the MCAS and PARCC exams actually indicate college- and career- readiness, what we consider the most important value provided by these tests. We hope this study can focus attention on the need to ensure assessments are aligned with the demands our students will face after high school graduation.  Read the documents below to learn why it is essential that we move beyond “proficiency” as a goal, and instead educate ALL students to be  “future ready” – prepared to succeed on any path they pursue.

Executive Summary

Full Report

Press Release

Learn more about

Building on What Works

BWWClogo_webMassachusetts’ economic vitality and  leadership in innovation depend on the state staying ahead of the national curve in education.  The business community must do all we can to keep our foot on the pedal of progress.  Over the past two decades, we have learned a lot about what all students need to excel.

Unfortunately those opportunities have not been consistently experienced in all of our schools. It’s our obligation to ensure that all children in Massachusetts – no matter who they are or where they live— have access to the innovative learning models that will prepare them for life.

That’s why MBAE is pleased to be part of a new group of mayors, educators, advocates, and business leaders that is working to incentivize and empower communities to provide more students with the kind of teaching and learning that will prepare them to succeed. We are calling for targeted investments in high-quality early childhood education, expanded learning time, and efforts to redesign schools to creatively deploy teacher talent, technology, and public resources.

Our proposal creates a competitive and accountable fund for communities committed to producing tangible results for kids. This approach is the right next step for Massachusetts because it is tightly focused on shared priorities, it is competitive, completely voluntary, targeted to communities with the greatest need, and fiscally responsible. While new leaders on Beacon Hill chart a course forward, this is an immediate step they can take to empower communities and establish a stronger foundation for our kids and their futures.

We hear it all the time – “Massachusetts is consistently the highest performing state on most national measures and ranks among the top performers on international comparisons as well.”  But our progress has slowed, and despite the innovation generated by our thriving high technology and world-class university sectors, we are doing little to encourage similar innovation by PreK-12 educators in the use of time and space, mastery based progression and other approaches to student centered learning.  Meanwhile, utilization of technology in education is literally decades behind almost every other sector.  See our New Opportunity to Lead agenda for more information!

The Building on What Works coalition proposal can jumpstart the creation of demonstrations that can scale rapidly and successfully, providing the opportunity for multiple school models (charter, district, innovation, pilot, etc.) across district lines to come together and collectively support each other’s efforts to improve educational opportunities for students.

Investment in the future can’t stop because fiscal times are tough.  Education is an essential solution to the problems we face.  With a modest investment we can keep the momentum going, build a more sustainable workforce pipeline, and invest in our children and our communities.

Read More:  Press Release and FAQs

Presidential Politics and the Common Core

Karen Nussle, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success recently shared some information we think is worth repeating.  This blog post draws heavily on that information.

With the 2016 presidential campaign already gaining steam, some presidential candidates who originally supported Common Core are now having to explain .

In Iowa last weekend, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who in late 2013, famously implored Common Core backers to “rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat,” argued the state initiative began as “governor-controlled” but is now a federal overreach.

Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggests his new stance on Common Core is the result of federal overreach under the Race to the Top initiative, which in 2011 awarded his state with a $17.4 million grant in exchange for adopting high standards. He makes this argument even though he applied for the grant three times, and in the two years after it was awarded, he never perceived a federal overreach.

Race to the Top provided one-time conditional and competitive grants that were completely voluntary. States had to demonstrate they were implementing “college and career ready” standards, but adopting Common Core was not the only route to doing this.  Participation in Common Core cannot be both voluntary and coerced.

Not all GOP candidates are changing their positions.  Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared on Fox News Sunday, and criticized GOP leaders for choosing political expediency over good policy:

“These were governors who helped create the Common Core,” he said.

“The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals. In my state of Ohio, we want higher standards for our children, and those standards are set and the curriculum is set by local school boards,” he added. “Barack Obama doesn’t set it. The state of Ohio doesn’t set it. It is local school boards driving better education, higher standards, created by local school boards.”

As many critics – elected and otherwise – remain silent on what they would propose as an alternative to the Common Core State Standards, Nussle has suggested the questions below.  These are some important questions that deserve a response from politicians who have flip-flopped on Common Core:

  1. Are we setting high enough expectations for students today?
  2. Is your concern with the Common Core Standards themselves, or with the federal role? That is, if states could be assured that they have complete autonomy on setting standards, could you support standards like the Common Core?
  3. Have you read the entire Standards document yourself?
  4. Are you satisfied with the academic standards states were using before Common Core came along?
  5. Why does it matter which standards a state uses?
  6. Do you see any benefits from states using the same (or very similar) standards and tests, or are we better off as a country with 50 distinct standards?
  7. If states set their own standards, how do you think this should be done? Who should be responsible for deciding what’s in them?
  8. Given that Common Core is a state-initiated effort, what specific federal steps would you take as President to repeal the Standards in the 43 states that have voluntarily adopted them?
  9. You say Common Core has become a federally controlled program, but as recently as XX years ago, you didn’t feel the same way. Can you tell me exactly what you loved about Common Core when you were full-square behind it, and what new factors exist today that weren’t present when you supported Common Core?
  10. Do you believe it’s possible for a state to create a set of Standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core, and adequately prepare students for college and career readiness?

The truth is that while the politics around Common Core may have become more challenging to navigate, the standards haven’t changed: states are still in complete control. Most political leaders and educators are resisting pressure to revert to lower standards – not because Washington is compelling them, but because the standards raise the bar for our students.

The Patriots and the Common Core

As a Boston sports fan, I may not be a totally objective observer of “Deflategate”, but I find myself very ticked off at the innuendo, sniping and sore sportsmanship demonstrated in attacks on the Patriots. One of the motivations I see behind the attempts to portray the team as “cheaters” is pure jealousy and contempt for excellence.  I fear our culture – in sports and otherwise – has developed a nuanced and dangerous tendency to focus more on making excuses for the losers than crediting, much less emulating, the winners for their talent and effort.

The Boston Globe sports section has featured a number of stories this week about coaches and players and a clear and common theme is that these guys work really hard and are very smart.   The assistant coaches have a combined 162 years of experience, the team holds more meetings (spending more time on strategy, presumably) than any other NFL team, and has a defensive coordinator who is a rocket scientist (Matt Patricia holds a degree in aeronautical engineering from RPI).  Any team can draft smart players, work hard, expect and reward excellence and produce outstanding results.  Just because the Patriots do it consistently doesn’t mean they accomplish that feat by cutting corners.  The whiners might do better to focus on their own work ethic (or lack thereof) rather than wasting energy on specious accusations.

Rafa Alvarez patricia-illustrationGlobe

There are remarkable parallels between the treatment the Patriots have received on occasion over the years, and especially in the past two weeks, and the attacks on the Common Core State Standards.   In both cases, critics persist in advancing opinions about process and content as if these are facts, even when substantive evidence is presented (whether by Bill Belechick‘s physics lesson or by independent fact checking) that proves these assertions are false. Conspiracy theories are circulated despite the fact that, in the case of the standards, the process of developing the CCSS was absolutely a voluntary collaboration of states involving hundreds of educators and experts years before the federal government encouraged the move to college and career ready standards through the Race to the Top competitive grants.   MBAE has repeatedly provided commentary and information in this space to provide documented evidence of the facts about the Common Core State Standards, adopted by Massachusetts in 2010 and integrated in to our Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks since 2011.  We’ll continue to do so, and support the original 2008 goal to “upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.”

Whether supporting the highest standards for our children, or rooting for the New England Patriots, the common element is aiming high and striving to be the best!  Promoting and admiring positive achievements – whether in sport or any other endeavor –  does not mean failing to recognize flaws, but this can be done in a constructive manner that doesn’t denigrate positive achievements.  It is critical we remember that our behavior and attitudes are models for our children – let’s teach them to value and embrace excellence!  Go Pats!

Educating Your Future Workforce: A Call to Action for Employers

Of all the policy imperatives facing the Baker administration, there is none more relevant to our economic future than public education.  Preparing future generations with the knowledge demands of our 21st century economy is perhaps the most critical component of our economic success.  Unfortunately, our shortfalls in this area are becoming all too apparent to the Massachusetts business community who report deficiencies in the preparedness of the workforce and trouble finding people with the right skills to fill positions.

Last week, the MBAE, and our partners at Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, brought policymakers and business leaders together to consider the problem:  Massachusetts faces serious shortages of college graduates and skilled workers to fill open and future positions in key industries that sustain our economy and drive future growth.  What roles must our K-12 education system, public colleges and universities, and the business community play to fill our workforce pipeline with qualified candidates?

Massachusetts’ Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland summarized alarming findings from the recently released Degrees of Urgency report.  Rising demand for higher skill levels, changing demographics, and historic underfunding in public higher education in Massachusetts have created a “perfect storm” that threatens the state’s economy.  The third annual Vision Project report projects that by 2025 the state will experience a projected shortfall of 55 to 65,000 needed graduates.

The Commissioner’s message was clear. A big part of the problem is money.  Massachusetts currently ranks 46th in the nation in average need-based financial aid.  But Freeland also pointed to other factors such as: the lack of cohesion between K-12 and higher education; and the outdated MCAS assessments that allow students to graduate at proficiency rates too low to match entry level college course requirements, leading to costly remediation and low graduation rates.

“We’ve got students taking remedial courses with their Pell grants saying:  how did this happen?  I passed the MCAS?,” said Freeland.

WGBH’s Callie Crossley led a discussion about the findings of the report, featuring panelists Maura Banta, IBM’s Director Of Global Citizenship Initiatives in Education; Ted Lepres, former CEO and current Chairman of the Nypro Advisory Board at Nypro, a Jabil Company; and Bill Walczak, MBAE’s Board Chairman.  All agreed that our current K through 16 education system does not align with the economic demands of the Commonwealth and making the changes necessary to correct this problem is essential to growing a qualified workforce.  For a state dependent on talent to attract and retain businesses which can often find lower labor, energy and transportation costs elsewhere in the country and around the world, this serves as a dramatic wake up call.

“We don’t have a lot of natural resources.  What we have is intellectual capital and we are not doing a good enough job of mining that,” said Bill Walczak.

Twenty five years ago the business community led the charge for dramatic improvements in education that resulted in significant progress.  It must do so once again to address the urgent challenge we currently face.  A poll of employers found that 84% agree our schools needs to change to be better aligned with the demands of the economy.  MBAE has a plan to do just that – seize The New Opportunity to Lead.  We must modernize our education system – moving it from a 19th century model to one that can adapt and innovate as our 21st century demands, but it will require the support of business.  We ask you do join us in doing three things:

  • Inform – Educate yourself and your colleagues, neighbors and friends by getting the facts about the challenges we face and the opportunity we have to address them.
  • Engage – Join with MBAE. Become a member or a partner.  Collaborate with us.
  • Mobilize – Get your trade and local business organizations on board.

If we want young people to graduate from high school genuinely college and career ready, with the knowledge, skills and competencies needed for lifelong learning and active citizenship in the 21st Century, we have to seize the opportunity now.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education