Evaluation of the Content and Quality of the 2014 MCAS and PARCC relative to the CCSSO Criteria for High Quality Assessments

Some months ago, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute announced that we were beginning an ambitious review of several next-generation assessments, which were designed to align to the Common Core and were also purported to more accurately measure students’ college and career readiness. We devised the study to answer the following questions:

  1. Do the assessments place strong emphasis on the most important content of college and career readiness standards for the pertinent grade level, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? Do they require all students to demonstrate the higher-order thinking skills reflected in those standards? (Content and Depth)
  2. Are they accessible to all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners? (Accessibility)
  3. What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of each assessment relative to the criteria used to evaluate them?

Over the summer, we assembled a panel of reviewers to analyze operational test items of four assessments: the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter Balanced), ACT Aspire, and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessments System (MCAS). The first three are currently in use across multiple states; the final, MCAS, is a highly regarded state test widely known as the “best in class” among the previous generations of state assessments. Our expert panelists examined test items at the fifth- and eighth-grade levels, while the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) conducted a similar (but separate) evaluation at the high school level.

The state of Massachusetts is in the process of deciding which assessment to use in the future to evaluate students’ mastery of English language arts and mathematics, and thus our analysis was of significant interest to Massachusetts state and local policymakers. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, under the leadership of Education Commissioner Dr. Mitchell Chester, asked if we could make available the results of our research for MCAS and PARCC in order to inform the state’s decision making. Given that one of the goals of education research is to inform smart policy, we agreed to release a subset of the results for MCAS and PARCC in the form of a memo to Massachusetts and PARCC officials. That memo was sent to those officials today, October 30.

In the spirit of transparency, we are making this memo publicly available on our website. It includes our reviewers’ analysis of test items on PARCC and MCAS. A full report, including results for Smarter Balanced and ACT Aspire and finer-grained analysis of MCAS and PARCC, will be released in January 2016.

Download the full memo here.