Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
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Foundation Budget Review Recommends Funding Adjustments

The Foundation Budget Review Commission will issue an interim report today, Tuesday, June 30th.

When the report is officially released, MBAE will have its comments posted here.  Please come back later!

Testing Moratorium a Bad Idea

Bills proposing a 3-year moratorium on high-stakes testing drew such a large crowd to a hearing of the Joint Committee on Education that the session had to move to Gardner Auditorium, the largest room in the State House.

MBAE strongly opposes these proposals, and pointed out in testimony that “only by assessing all students can achievement gaps be identified and can parents and teachers get the critical information to support and serve … schools and students”.  In addition, a practical concern is the loss of U.S. government funding since federal law requires that a 95 percent participation rate in assessments be maintained annually to receive these funds.

The moratorium proposal is a distraction that doesn’t address our primary challenge – making sure we have the right test.  MBAE’s New Opportunity to Lead report contends that Massachusetts has the potential to become a world leader in more sophisticated assessment systems.   That means tests that are an authentic part of learning – helping students understand concepts and materials and giving educators powerful information to improve curriculum and instruction.  As Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss points out, we in Massachusetts can get even better at assessment.

Massachusetts should not only adopt PARCC but also look beyond it to anticipate what other assessments it will need in the future.  Online assessments offer much greater potential to assess deeper learning: for example, real-time simulations, in which students are asked to answer questions by interrogating additional information available online before determining their answers, offer possibilities for assessing the broader range of competencies they will need in their future.  That’s the kind of innovation MBAE is committed to supporting in education.

Employers are also parents who sympathize with the motivation of those urging a test moratorium out of concern that too much time is being spent on test prep – rote memorization of facts and practicing responses to multiple choice questions.  The answer to that type of misuse of time is not to call a halt to testing – but to come up with solutions to the problem.  PARCC is responding to concerns raised about time spent on testing, by cutting testing time in the 2015/2016 school year.  It will change from two testing windows to one and it will shorten the test by approximately 90 minutes for most students.

This debate is likely to continue until a decision is made by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next fall.  Let’s show our children we can do the difficult work to get this right – not give up!

Vocational Technical Education in the Spotlight

Future Ready Massachusetts is a member of the Coalition for Vocational Technical Education (CVTE), a group committed to addressing the mismatch between available jobs and workforce skills, particularly among entry-level employees. Vocational education increasingly serves as a bridge to jobs particularly as many jobs require some postsecondary education and training for entry level positions.

A new report, Career and Technical Education: Five Ways that Pay released last week by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce highlighted the fact that there are 29 million jobs that pay middle-class wages and require less than a bachelor’s degree. Many of these jobs, requiring career and technical training, are in the STEM and healthcare fields, two of the largest industries in Massachusetts.

We believe that the work readiness skills required to pursue these positions are of great value to all students, not just those participating in vocational technical education programs.  Vocational technical schools also have great expertise in teaching students applied skills such as collaboration, communication, workplace decorum and problem solving.  These views are expressed in MBAE’s testimony in support of House Bill 455, filed by Rep. Alice Peisch to establish a commission to study vocational-technical schools therefore includes two proposed amendments to the bill.  First, we recommend that an employer be a member of the Commission to provide the perspective of someone with firsthand knowledge about the skills gap in Massachusetts.  Second, we believe the Commission’s scope of work should include examining how vocational schools can collaborate with traditional high schools to help provide work-readiness skills to students attending any high school in the Commonwealth.

What do you think?  The CVTE is conducting a poll of many constituencies of vocational technical education.

Employers are encouraged to take this short survey

Community members should click here to take the survey

Visit FutureReadyMA.org for more information about preparing for postsecondary success!  Follow us on Twitter @FutureReadyMA!

 

PARCC Hearings Underway

Last month, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that it would hold public forums across the state to give the public an opportunity to share their views about replacing MCAS exams with PARCC student assessments.

The first forum, held April 28 in Fitchburg, addressed general test administration issues while a second forum at Bunker Hill Community College on May 18 focused on the use of technology for test administration.  At that hearing, MBAE Board members Joseph Esposito and David Mancuso each testified about the value students gain from taking tests online as employers consider familiarity with and capability of using technology essential for most jobs.

We hope that employers will raise their voices about the skills students need to compete in the workforce.  The business community has a valuable opportunity to address the skills gap that has been a source of so much frustration.  Please share your perspectives about why assessments need to provide honest measures of whether students are prepared for success in your workplace!  Dates and locations for remaining forums can be found here.   Written comments are also welcome and can be sent to boe@doe.mass.edu.

Your input matters!  Last week, the PARCC Governing Board announced that testing time would be reduced after a careful review of the test design and feedback from school districts and teachers. The changes will improve and simplify PARCC test administration for schools, teachers and students.  The field test administration in 2014 and 2015 has provided valuable information and evidence for continuing to refine the test, as intended.

MBAE continues to be optimistic that PARCC will provide a true measure of the college and career readiness of our students, leading to reduced remediation rates at public colleges and improved job prospects for all of our students.

Comparing MCAS and PARCC – A Look at the Test Questions

MBAE’s longtime commitment to high standards for learning and an assessment system that measures student progress and holds school systems accountable for performance compelled us to pay close attention to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in Massachusetts.   Similarly, we, and the employers we represent, have a lot at stake in the process of introducing new assessments aligned to these standards – specifically the Partnership for Assessing Readiness for College and Career (PARCC).   We are particularly interested in informed, rational information from educators who are as committed as we are to educating students for college and career success.

That’s why we were particularly interested in two blog posts by Stig Leschly, CEO of Match Education.  In his first “Walk in the PARCC”, Stig examines the math PARCC tests, and using examples of test questions, explains why he and his colleagues support the move from MCAS to PARCC.   His reasons are that PARCC math mitigates the role of luck, requires students to understand math conceptually, requires students to provide detailed explanations for their solutions, and, “open response questions, more than their MCAS analogs, demand that students identify relevant information and solve complex, multi-step problems”.

In his second post, Stig looks at English Language Arts (ELA) and reaches a similar conclusion.  Again, using examples of actual questions from the test, he finds that PARCC-ELA mitigates the role of luck, requires students to distinguish nuances of word meaning, demands that students analyze authors’ uses of literary devices, tests true reading comprehension, and, far more than MCAS-ELA, tests writing extensively and requires students to write in response to complex texts.

Both posts are worth reading and will provide more specific and valuable information about this very important decision than you’ll find elsewhere.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education