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Mitchell Chester: Positioning MA for Delayed PARCC?

October 22, 2015

On October 21, 2015, I received a copy of an email written by Maureen LaCroix, who identifies herself as “educational consultant at Massachusetts Department of Education” (DESE) on Linkedin.

The email (which was forwarded to me by one of my readers) is LaCroix’s take on recent discussions surrounding the potential future role of PARCC in Massachusetts. On October 19, 2015, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester proposed that DESE create a hybrid of the state’s current assessment, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and PARCC. The board is set to vote on November 19 to either retain and “upgrade” MCAS or to replace MCAS with PARCC.

Chester’s politically pacifying compromise essentially sets Massachusetts up for a future MCAS “zombie” stuffed with PARCC. Of course, he is not stating so in this manner. However, the more information I read on the issue, the more Chester’s goal to transform MCAS into PARCC-with-MCAS-label makes sense.

The email from LaCroix is one document that has influenced my reasoning. In order to better weigh the content of the email, I skimmed the tweets on LaCroix’s Twitter account to learn that she supports Common Core and PARCC.

Here is her email as it came my way in full, dated October 21, 2015, and allegedly sent to MA superintendents:

Good Afternoon Colleagues:

I am writing to you this afternoon to offer my observations on the PARCC/MCAS discussions at this week’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meetings.  Some of the headlines generated by the media have, in my view, distorted the thoughtful exchange between the Commissioner and the Board.  Many of us have experienced the fallout that occurs when there is a disconnect between the headline and the story so I wanted to share my personal perspective on the two meetings.

Monday evening’s meeting began with the Commissioner’s suggestion that the Board consider a new option for the November 19 assessment decision.  He defined this as an option that would use the investment we have made in PARCC as the starting point for Massachusetts to create an MCAS 2.0.  In his October 20th “On the  Desktop” message, he elaborates on how and why he came to this decision.  My observation is that the Commissioner’s reasons are twofold.  First and foremost, he wants to be sure that Massachusetts maintains control over its assessment system.  Secondly, he wants to take advantage of the recent decision by PARCC Inc. to offer participating states a variety of membership options.  This change at PARCC Inc. has provided MA with the opportunity to consider a different pathway to achieve the goal many of us share to implement a next generation assessment.  Louisiana has already taken advantage of this flexibility.  As he elaborated on this option, the Commissioner made the point that we need to take advantage of the work done by PARCC and not start from scratch.  He also underscored that we cannot stand still with MCAS.

Questions Board members posed about the Commissioner’s introduction of this option for their assessment decision included:

  1. How long will it take to develop MCAS 2.0?
  2. How much will it cost?
  3. What relationship will MA have with PARCC Inc.?
  4. What test will we offer in the spring of 2016?

Needless to say, I do not have answers to these questions but am optimistic that the Commissioner and the Board will find the right path forward.

The final observation I would make is that we are blessed to have your leadership in this work.  And you should know that Tuesday’s public comments on assessment by our superintendent colleagues from New Bedford, Revere, and Boston was inspiring.

Best,

Maureen

First of all, LaCroix’s words, “use the investment we have made in PARCC as the starting point,” provides not only the perspective from which Chester is supposedly viewing MA’s assessment change– that PARCC and not MCAS is the starting point– but also, this approach leverages a potential “PARCC takeover” of the MA assessment.

My second head-tilting moment comes from Chester’s supposed concern about relinquishing state control to a consortium. Apparently a loss of state control does not concern him enough to remove himself as chair of said consortium. Moreover, he expressed no such concern previously– only now, when political savvy makes such a decision expedient.

Third, about Chester’s role as PARCC chair: He offers no word about what deal might have been made to allow him to continue as chair (already he has been allowed to remain PARCC governing board chair for a year even though MA did not use PARCC as the state assessment in 2015, a stipulation in the PARCC MOU). Chester’s not yet clarifying his future role as PARCC chair is suspect given that (yet another bit of news) LaCroix mentions that PARCC, Inc., has allegedly already decided to reinvent itself as a vendor of PARCC questions. (Surely Chester’s potential role as PARCC chair of a “vended question” PARCC state has come up in planning this redirection of a struggling PARCC consortium?)

Has Chester been allowed another year to remain PARCC governing board chair under the stipulation that he will spend the year working to remake MCAS into nothing more than a PARCC shell?

Chester needs to publicly declare any arrangements he has made to retain his position as PARCC governing board chair given his publicized support for an MCAS-PARCC “compromise.”

And about item vending machine PARCC:

The PARCC, Inc., makeover as incorporating the new role of assessment item vendor is not clearly stated on its website, though there is a brief statement at the bottom of the “What We Do” page (linked above) that the PARCC items are for sale to testing vendors:

Parcc Inc. offers licensing agreements of PARCC forms and items to vendors at various price structures. Visit the Parcc Inc. Licensing page.

The “licensing page” referenced above offers no further detail and only allows one to send an email to learn@parccinc.org with the subject, “licensing.”

According to an October 20, 2015, Commonwealth Magazine article, MA education secretary, Jim Peyser, says that the idea for PARCC question vending in order to recreate the MA assessments was influenced by Louisiana. In her email, LaCroix also alludes to the item vending “flexibility” that Louisiana “has already taken advantage of.”

“Flexibility” is one of those choice corporate reform terms that polishes and shines an item in anticipation of a sale. The federal-strong-arm, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers are called “flexibility” on the US Department of Education website.

“Flexibility” is a great term to gloss over Louisiana’s “PARCC” dysfunction. The Louisiana public has yet to see any official documentation regarding the arrangement between/among the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), the PARCC consortium, or any testing vendor for procuring PARCC items.

And since Peyser credits Louisiana as an inspiration for taking MA down the road of PARCC-vended questions, he would do well to consider the pronounced measurement error in the PARCC-approved scale scores associated with Louisiana’s supposed 2015 “PARCC” tests.

There is a lack of research on PARCC assessments, and the little that is emerging is at odds with the enthusiastic marketing of the PARCC product. (Note that the degree to which the 2015 Louisiana grade 3 through 8 assessments are similar to the Pearson-vended PARCC assessments has been purposely hidden from the public.)

A final issue to consider as alluded to in LaCroix’s email is “the recent decision by PARCC Inc. to offer participating states a variety of membership options.”

Consider this June 21, 2013, Power Point entitled, “PARCC Sustainability: 2014-15 and Beyond,” by “Laura McGiffert Slover, Senior Vice President, Achieve.” (The Power Point is an entire study in itself, but I limit my analysis for the sake of time.)

Slover was influential in creating Common Core and became CEO of the PARCC nonprofit, PARCC, Inc. On its 2013 990 tax form, Achieve identifies itself as “the project management partner for PARCC; it also notes, “The [Achieve] College and Career Ready Initiatives unit is responsible for positioning Achieve nationally, and in the states, as a leader of the college and career ready agenda.”

According to PARCC, Inc., and Achieve, Inc., 990 tax forms for 2013, Slover worked 40 hours a week for Achieve under the title, “senior assoc mathematics” and earned $220,419 in total compensation, and she also worked an additional 40 hours a week for PARCC for $11,698 in total compensation. So, it looks like PARCC continues to be a project of Achieve even as PARCC now has its own nonprofit.

According to Slover’s 2013 Power Point, the creation of the PARCC nonprofit was part of the PARCC “vision for sustainability”– “for continued state leadership and state implementation of PARCC.”

Slover also notes, “Launching the non-profit is the first step in the process to ensuring the PARCC assessment system and consortium can be sustained in the long term.”

Thus, a primary purpose of PARCC, Inc., is to help PARCC survive, and the nonprofit behind PARCC, Inc.– Achieve, Inc.– was created to ultimately promote the Common Core behind PARCC. (For more about Achieve’s leading to Common Core, see my book, Common Core Dilemma.)

In her 2013 Power Point promoting PARCC, Slover noted that PARCC was comprised of 22 states. For 2016 testing, PARCC has seven states and DC, including Massachusetts.

But PARCC is not doing well. Slover and Chester want it to, so the PARCC-as-item-vendor component is a bid to help PARCC survive, but I believe in Massachusetts’ case it is also a lure to have DESE and the Massachusetts public drop their guard so that PARCC in an MCAS shell is easier to pull off.

That potential shell is in for a fight.

On my October 20,2015, post about Chester “turning his back” on PARCC, Monty Neill of Fairtest wrote the following info as part of a comment:

An alliance of civic groups and unions is fighting for a 3-year moratorium on high stakes uses of tests, allowing MCAS (not PARCC) to be administered; then use the 3 years to design a system not based on one-size-fits-few, one-shot tests. For more, see http://www.citizensforpublicschools.org.

Not everyone in Massachusetts intends to “take advantage of PARCC”– or to be taken advantage of by smoothed-over PARCC promotion.

It is best to be wary of that PARCC-MCAS-hybrid cheese.

mousetrap

___________________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

11 Comments
  1. Governor Baker needs to “reign him in” and Chester needs to stop telling NJ and other states in the consortia how to run their departments in their separate states. There are many who have no confidence in him at all and his department of “test and punish” is in disarray…. They also affiliate with Measured Progress (responsible for MA Business Alliance putting out “phony ” studies by Sir Michael Barber) and we need the State Auditor Suzanne Bump to audit these inter-state transactions and how much time Chester has been out of role telling the other PARCC states how wonderful he is. We need to divest from PARCC/ Pearson and any out of state “consortium” .
    M. Chester thinks he is the President of U.S. of PARCC — he has gone way beyond the role of MA Commissioner — he has sold us out for his own career gains. There are people who have already left his “testing and punish” department and Jim Stergios said Chester thinks he has his own private game board. It gets so back someone called Jim Stergios organization “shiv-carrying”… I keep insisting you follow the money trail to find out a big chunk of this and the funds that Arne Duncan squandered through the consortium. We have a huge transportation failure from last winter MBTA still to be fixed; where are they going to get the millions to fix Chester’s goof – up?

    The Curriculum Frameworks must be the starting point — NOT the PARCC test bank.
    He needs to remove himself from the PARCC (as I have repeatedly suggested in emails to the governor and the Ed Secretary Peyser). He cannot play a miniature Arne Duncan and tell RI and NJ and Louisiana what they should do. The governor needs to reign him in, remove him from all consortia and eespcially with Pearson. Auditor Suzanne Bump needs to be involved; if we think Division of Families and Children deserves an audit because of the children that have been sacrificed (dying in foster homes etc)…. well our students as guinea pigs have been sacrificed also to the corporate money grab of Pearson and the ego inflation of Chester. I have no faith that he can pull thing together.

  2. A different author from Measured Progress shared some sensible views when he wrote a report that our expectations of teacher candidates are way over-blown in respect to what we demand of teachers in the assessment area. That is quite a good letter and it needs to be discussed in light of the changes in the requirements for observation of candidates by the respective colleges. Two of my colleagues have worked on a survey to get more information on this; are the newest expectations of student teachers (candidates) realistic? are we able to actually observe and measure the classroom practices of the candidate under these new guidelines? As we have “test and punish” K-12 we have some unrealistic ideas about what the candidate can actually perform in light of what we expect of the seasoned, expert professional in the classroom.

    jeanhaverhill@aol.com

  3. Christine permalink

    So PARCC has become a dirty word just like common core. The next move is to rename PARCC, but still essentially use it. Which means parents simply have to say no to all high stakes achievement tests, no matter the name.

  4. kellyorourke permalink

    The Curriculum Frameworks are the starting point, exactly right. Common Core is the culprit, not the PARCC test.

  5. here are a few more numbers; these people all work on assessment ; I think the one named Michol has a “senior” type responsibility. LACroix is listed in the “commissioner’s office”…. When MA business alliance came out with their phony study supporting PARCC I wrote emails and they said “we gave your email to the chief of staff/aide to the Commissioner Chester”… imagine he is so important he needs a “Chief” of staff… is that like a “general’s aide?” Can you tell I am angry

  6. Student Assessment Web Sites:
    MCAS
    Staff Members:
    Bennett, Rebecca (781) 338-3617
    Carlisle, Benjamin (781) 338-3633
    Daley, Daphne (781) 338-3616
    Davis, Elizabeth (781) 338-3628
    Flanagan, Kathleen (781) 338-3607
    Freeman, Haley Dawn (781) 338-3636
    Glick, Alexis (781) 338-3614
    Hand, Debra (781) 338-3612
    Iliescu, Claudia (781) 338-3606
    Kelley, R. Scott (781) 338-3591
    Kelly, Bridgette (781) 338-3611
    Lee, Robert (781) 338-3583
    Marcella, Judith (781) 338-3608
    McGregor, Robert (781) 338-3619
    Pelychaty, Robert (781) 338-3627
    Powers, Lonnie (781) 338-3609
    Ragsdale, David (781) 338-3622
    Rathod, Seema (781) 338-3615
    Shen, Anping (781) 338-3640
    Stapel, Michol (781) 338-3610
    Thompson, Jane (781) 338-3618
    Wiener, Dan (781) 338-6264
    Yang, Yi (781) 338-3605
    Zakrzewski, Rose Ellen (781) 338-3621PHONE NUMBERS

  7. good comments out of New Jersey today; they just opened up their surprise package from Pearson/PARCC (thanks to Mitchell Chester who goes around the country doing marketing hype)…
    “Further, the Commissioner’s claim that the test results “prove” that New Jersey high school graduation requirements are “not rigorous enough for most students to be successful after college” rests on two unproven contentions: 1) that PARCC actually is sorting those who are “ready” for college and careers from those who are not and 2) students who do not score “at expectations” or above can blame any lack of success they have later in life on their primary and secondary education rather than on macroeconomic forces that have systematically hollowed out opportunity.” quote from DanielsKatz

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