Mitchell Chester: Positioning MA for Delayed PARCC?
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:
- How long will it take to develop MCAS 2.0?
- How much will it cost?
- What relationship will MA have with PARCC Inc.?
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.