How Massachusetts Promoted Achievement Before Common Core & PARCC

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Before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) officially decides to adopt PARCC’s testing system in place of the testing system that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) developed in the 1990s and early 2000s, local school committees, state legislators, and parents should be able to peruse the test items used in the tests given to all public school students in the Bay State as part of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).  The major purpose of this blog is to give them access to the test items used in MCAS tests at all grade levels and for all subjects tested, from 1998 on.

These test items are public information because the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 (MERA) required all used test items to be released annually. DESE used to compile a report every spring containing all used state test items, distribute this report to the schools in September, and post these annual reports on its website. It no longer does so and will not be able to do so if BESE adopts PARCC. It is not clear how parents, state legislators, and local school boards will be able to understand changes in the K-12 curriculum without access to the full array of test items that will hold teachers accountable for student scores on PARCC.  But, at the least, they can see the test items that promoted achievement in all student groups before Common Core and PARCC. For a view of all “practice test” items PARCC made available for public inspection in mathematics and English language arts for the 2015 PARCC tests, see

The first MCAS tests were given in 1998.  They were based on the standards for science and mathematics approved by the Martin Kaplan-chaired board in December 1995, on the English language arts standards approved in December 1996 by the John Silber-chaired board, and on the history/social science standards approved by the John Silber-chaired board in mid-1997.  Tests had not yet been developed for the other subjects mandated for assessment by MERA (health, foreign/world languages, and the performing arts), and in 2015 still haven’t.

Every spring from 1998 on, DESE prepared a document showing all test items used in the previous year.  No direct links to these documents can be located on the DESE website any more.  The following links, located on other websites, will open up these DESE documents prepared by DESE to address the statute in MERA requiring annual release of all used MCAS test items. The first one is titled The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: Release of May 1998 Test Items.  It shows all common test items (and answers) for the three subjects tested in 1998.

The second is titled The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: Release of Spring 1999 Test Items.  It shows all common test items (and answers) for the four subjects tested in 1999.

The third is titled The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System: Release of Spring 2000 Test Items.  It shows all common test items (and answers) for the four subjects tested in 2000.

For each grade level test, these documents indicate the date of the standards on which the test items for that year were based.  After 2000, MCAS tests were based on the revised standards for all four subjects as soon as the revised curriculum framework for the subject was approved. Revised standards in mathematics, science and technology, English language arts, and history/social science were approved under James Peyser, now Secretary of Education under Governor Charles Baker, while he served as BESE chair (from 1999 to 2005).  Governor Charles Baker was a member of BESE from 2000 to 2007. It should also be noted that an annual reading test in grade 3 began in 2001, and that by 2006, DESE was providing a summary page showing “reporting categories, standards, and correct answers” (e.g., 2006, grade 8, p. 345) after showing all test items used at a grade level.

The links for the documents annually released by DESE from 2001 to 2007 are as follows:







2007 or this version

After 2007, DESE announced it would no longer release all used test items annually.[1]  It would release only about half of them, because of cost (it explained) and to shorten the testing periods themselves.  The document containing used test items continued to be prepared by DESE each spring, and released to the schools after 2007 (to address MERA). But test items for only some grades in some subjects can be located via Google. And they can be located only because grade-level groups of test items were downloaded, scanned, and posted on the Internet by individuals, schools, or entrepreneurs, such as the URLs below. More can be located; it just takes time.

Grade 10 mathematics


grade 8 mathematics, 2009, 17 items here

Grade 10 ELA

Grade 10 mathematics 2011, 42 test items here

Grade 10, 2014 MCAS

Grade 10, 2013, MCAS, ELA

Grade 10 2014 MCAS ELA

[1]  The 2015 MBAE report also indicated that one feature of MCAS was: “Releasing all items on all tests each year for the first nine years of the program, and continuing to release half of items in subsequent years” (p. 4).


How Massachusetts Promoted Achievement Before Common Core & PARCC

Before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) officially decides to adopt PARCC’s testing system in place of the testing system that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) developed in the 1990s and early 2000s, local school committees, state legislators, and parents should be able to peruse the test items used in the tests given to all public school students in the Bay State as part of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).  The major purpose of this blog is to give them access to the test items used in MCAS tests at all grade levels and for all subjects tested, from 1998 on. These test items are public information because the Massachusetts Education Reform Act […]

Why Massachusetts Should Abandon the PARCC Tests & Common Core

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Is it Time to Rethink State Boards of Education?

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Don’t Waste the Crisis over Common Core

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Steps for States to Follow to Replace Common Core

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How to Make Common Core Useful?

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Those Mathematical Societies That Supposedly Endorsed Common Core’s Standards Didn’t

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Doubling Down on Doublespeak

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On Common Core, a Study in Contrasts

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What Reporters Think They Know about Common Core

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Audio: Lead Mathematics Standards-Writer William McCallum

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Debunking Common Core Myths

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Will Michael Brickman, Tim Shanahan, Politifact, Fox News, and USA Today do some careful reading, please? (by Sandra Stotsky)

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Support for Common Core’s Fuzzy Math Doesn’t Add Up (by Sandra Stotsky)

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On Marc Tucker’s Credibility (by Sandra Stotsky)

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Needed: Matriculation exams tailored to each state’s higher education system

Several decades ago, self-appointed education reformers decided that more low-performing students should go to college and graduate than now do. They concluded that the quickest route to their goal was to lower the admissions requirements at public colleges. But they also realized that sending an even larger number of low-performing students on to any form of post-secondary education would increase the number now needing remediation in their freshman year. So they came up with what they thought was a clever idea. Call the K-12 standards “college readiness” standards so that those who pass a test based on these so-named standards in grade 11 get credit for courses they take in their college freshman year. No remediation. After all, they have […]

Schizophrenia in the New York Times Editorial Office (by Sandra Stotsky)

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New York State Test Results: Uninterpretable But a Portent of the Future (by Sandra Stotsky)

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4 Steps to Upgrade Teacher & Administrator Prep Programs (by Sandra Stotsky)

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How Long Before Duncan and the Media Speak Out Honestly? (by Sandra Stotsky)

The notion that Common Core’s college and career readiness standards are “rigorous” needs to be publicly put to bed by Arne Duncan, his erstwhile friends at the Fordham Institute, and the media. Two of Common Core’s own mathematics standards writers have publicly stated how weak Common Core’s college readiness mathematics standards are. At a public meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March 2010, physics professor Jason Zimba said: “the concept of college readiness is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.” Mathematics professor William McCallum told a group of mathematicians: “the overall standards would not be too high, certainly not in comparison [to] other nations, including East Asia, where math education excels.” What words don’t Duncan, […]

Common Core’s Cloudy Vision of College Readiness in Math (by Sandra Stotsky)

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More Than One Fatal Flaw in Common Core’s ELA Standards (by Sandra Stotsky)

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What To Do Once Common Core Is Halted (by Sandra Stotsky)

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Why Do They Lie? And Why Do Others Believe Them? (by Sandra Stotsky)

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Wanted: Internationally Benchmarked Standards in English, Mathematics, and Science (by Sandra Stotsky)

The many flaws in Common Core’s standards are finally beginning to be discussed in state after state, especially the damaging expectation that all American high school students should be prepared for college, whether or not they are willing or able to do the reading that college coursework requires.  The hidden problem with such an expectation is that it can be achieved on tests of college-readiness only when empty skills (e.g., find the main idea) are applied to non-demanding texts and when performance tasks are subjectively evaluated (e.g., how well does Jamie show “critical thinking” or collaborate with peers when solving a problem). That is why Common Core’s standards were intentionally not internationally benchmarked.  Other countries expect “college-ready” students to know […]

A stress on informational reading in the English class will not develop “critical” thinking (by Sandra Stotsky)

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Do “cold” readings of our historical documents “level the playing field”? (by Sandra Stotsky)

Two of the many bizarre ideas that the “chief architect” of Common Core’s English language arts standards has mandated in our “national standards” or told teachers outright are the notion that teachers should do “cold” readings of historical documents like the Gettysburg Address and that doing so “levels the playing field.”  Both ideas suggest the thinking of someone who has never taught in K-12.   Worse yet, they contribute to historical illiteracy. Aside from the fact that context-free reading was not developed or promoted by Yale English professors Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren as a reading technique for historical documents, no history or English teacher before the advent of Common Core would approach the study of a seminal historical document […]