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 http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/english/.
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:
After 2007, DESE announced it would no longer release all used test items annually. 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.
 http://blog.socrato.com/partial-release-of-mcas-test-items-is-a-step-backwards/. 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).
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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 […]
It is difficult to find any public analysis and comments by teachers, parents, researchers, or literary scholars on PARCC’s “practice” and “sample” test items for English language arts for grades 3-11. Taking the bull by the horns, that is what I decided to do in my invited testimony before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at the public hearing at Bridgewater State University on June 10, 2015, on whether the Board should abandon the MCAS tests and adopt the PARCC tests. In my written testimony, I first describe my qualifications, as well as the lack of relevant qualifications in Common Core’s standards writers and in most of the members of Common Core’s Validation Committee, on which I […]
Some political officials (Governor Sandoval of Nevada) and self-described policy wonks (Fordham Institute staff) are calling into question the usefulness of locally elected local school boards. Governor Sandoval suggested replacing them with governor-appointed boards, while Fordham has argued for years against locally elected school boards and for regional authorities, possibly appointed by governors and/or legislatures. Trust us, they say, we’re from Washington and know how to make your teachers accountable. Trust us, they say at the state level, we know how you should teach. That’s not how Massachusetts’ educational reform was ever envisioned – and the commonwealth’s reforms are well known as being the most successful educational reforms over the past half century. Trust us, they say, we’re from Washington […]
The entire Common Core project is rapidly going south, and within two years may be no more than a dim memory of a nightmare in the minds of a growing army of angry parents and teachers from coast to coast. Before this dystopian scheme for upgrading the academic status of low-income children emerges in a more deadly form in a newly re-authorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we could try to salvage one of the reasonable arguments for a “common core.” We could benefit from some research-based and internationally benchmarked common standards in elementary school reading, writing, and arithmetic across states. But not up to grade 12. As educators in other countries and most parents everywhere know, many young […]
To help out governors and state legislatures that really want to get state-tailored standards close to the quality of the pre-2010 Massachusetts and California standards–or the Indiana 2006 standards–I have provided an outline of the steps or procedures a state legislature could follow (see below). The outcomes remain open-ended. But these procedures, based on my experiences in Massachusetts over 10 years ago, and in other states in recent years, ensure that no special interest groups, including a state’s board, commissioner, or department of education, can take control of the “process,” deceive the parents of the state, and feed back a warmed-over version of Common Core as is now happening in South Carolina and Oklahoma, and as has happened in Indiana and […]
In a funny story in the Washington Post on December 24, 2014, Mike Petrilli and Michael Brickman (experts on nothing at all) claim that it will not be easy to replace Common Core’s standards with something better. They even go so far as to claim that “The basic problem is that it’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.” Why is their claim funny? Because we have already had standards that did exactly that, looked nothing like Common Core, and were remarkably easy to implement. As I noted here: Unlike Common Core’s standards, which are not designed to prepare American high school students for authentic college coursework, the […]
What could be done to make the idea of a common core across 50 states make sense in this country? I finally have come up with what could be the solution that Governor Huckabee simply missed. We need to relabel them high school-ready standards and give the so-called “college readiness” tests based on them in grade 8, which is where they belong with respect to content and cut scores. The contents and pass scores for the current Common Core-based tests are a better indication of whether students can do authentic high school-level work in grade 9 or 10 than of college-level work. A common core can make sense at the right grade levels. We need to compress most of the […]
Not by using Common Core-based standards and tests, for sure, or anything that looks like them. The English language arts and mathematics standards dumped by the Governor Patrick-appointed Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in July 2010 are nothing like Common Core’s standards. Unlike Common Core’s standards, which are not designed to prepare American high school students for authentic college coursework, the Commonwealth’s previous standards accelerated the academic achievement of minority groups in the state and did prepare our grade 10 students for authentic college coursework. Yet, Massachusetts parents, legislators, and teachers have been regularly told for five years that standards cleverly labeled “college and career ready” are better than those they replaced because the old ones didn’t prepare our […]
It’s not just Common Core’s standards and the curriculum teachers are putting into place to address those standards that are dumbing our kids down. Our colleges are contributing in their own way to the problem by the books they assign incoming freshmen to read in the summer for their first “common experience.” As Beach Books: 2013-2014 (www.NAS.org) notes, “most colleges seek to build community through their common reading programs.” Lest anyone think this experience means a book requiring high school-level reading skill, never mind college-level reading skill, the reading level of the most frequently assigned books (those assigned 5 or more times) should dispel that myth. The average reading level for the 5 of the top 7 books assigned as […]
Stanford University mathematics professor R. James Milgram included an informative e-mail in his packet of information for state legislators when he testified at a hearing on Common Core in Milledgeville, Georgia on September 24, 2014. The e-mail explains why presidents of many of the major mathematical organizations in the country endorsed Common Core’s standards in July 2013. The author of the e-mail seems to believe that the societies themselves would be unlikely to endorse Common Core’s standards, but that readers (i.e., the public) might be misled into thinking they had if they saw that the presidents had endorsed the standards. Consequently, the e-mail wants just the presidents’ signatures because they would “likely” be just as “effective.” The underlying assumption is […]
This past week, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues and once chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in which he defended Common Core as a conservative approach to school reform—allowing, he claimed, the preservation of our civic and cultural literary heritage. Several days earlier, Politico published a blog in which David Coleman, now president of the College Board and widely acknowledged as the chief “architect” of Common Core’s English language arts standards, is quoted as claiming that Common Core had been inspired by the work of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia. All of this rightly sounded bewildering to those familiar with […]
As state legislatures begin to pick up steam in their efforts to get rid of the Common Core octopus, with its many hidden tentacles reaching into the entire curriculum (under the guise of “literacy” standards), Common Core advocates have come up with a new ploy to ward off efforts to repeal Common Core and put first-rate standards in their place. It takes too long and costs too much money, Common Core advocates are now saying, to come up with another set of standards for ELA and math. Here is what was in a newsletter put out by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. States that drop Common Core standards under the gun for replacing them: States that […]
In a front-page article in June, the Washington Post featured corporate billionaire Bill Gates as a political sinner who deserves sainthood because his heart is in the right place. He bought off every organization in the country and colluded with the U.S. Department of Education just to ensure that low-income students would get the same low education he wants other people’s kids to get. Not, mind you, his own kids; they will get a first-class non-Common Core education in a private school in Seattle. [quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]What remains to be teased out is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and our major teacher unions were so willing to be “useful idiots.”[/quote] On the other hand, the National Review Online featured […]
1. Focus of Accountability: Schools or Teachers Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools and school districts were held accountable based on student scores. Under Common Core/Race to the Top (CC/RttT), teachers are to be held accountable based on varying percentages of student scores from state to state. 2. Source of State Standards: State Agencies or Private DC-Based Organizations Under NCLB or earlier, standards were developed by state departments of education guided by education schools, national teacher organizations, teachers, and higher education academic experts. They were approved through a public process applied to multiple drafts. Under CC/RttT, standards were developed by private organizations with no transparent review and finalization process, and no public discussion of final draft. The March 2010 […]
The next phase of the Great Game to control the minds of the next generation of Americans has just begun. Oklahoma is the most recent state to try to eliminate the academic malignancies entailed by Common Core. Many Oklahomans deserve credit for the bill Governor Fallin may sign this week, especially Jenni White, an energetic mother of six. But there will be no end to the Gates Foundation’s effort to impose weak secondary school standards on this country in the name of ending “white privilege” (the motivation acknowledged by New Hampshire teacher David Pook at a Cornerstone Institute debate two weeks ago), rather than to strengthen secondary school coursework for all students with academically rigorous and internationally benchmarked standards. The following steps […]
The public is ill-served by reporters who are no longer skeptical of what they are told, can’t read a set of ELA or math standards for K-12, and do not try to find out what is actually happening in the classroom in the name of Common Core. Here is a chart that appeared in an October 15, 2013 Hechinger Report. The comments mingle partial truths and outright lies. Why didn’t Sarah Garland, the reporter, seek a range of perspectives in order to evaluate what he or she had been told? (“Sold” may be the more accurate word.) Six ways Common Core changes English and math classrooms: Before Common Core English classes concentrated on literature, like Huckleberry Finn and Great Gatsby […]
These audio clips are from Professor William McCallum’s remarks on college readiness in Common Core’s mathematics standards at a meeting sponsored by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America in San Francisco, California, in January 2010. Viewers might also be interested in the video clips with Jason Zimba’s comments on college readiness in Common Core’s mathematics standards at a March 2010 meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. https://pioneerinstitute.org/news/video-common-core-lead-writer-jason-zimba/
One of the most interesting phenomena in the “Common Core War” is the number of “myths,” “claims,” and “facts” that have been put out by the advocates of Common Core’s standards. What they claim are “myths” are usually the facts, and what they claim are “facts” are usually myths or simply claims. No wonder uninformed legislators and journalists are confused. Some still think that the “fundamental” source of conflict in the Common Core War is growing opposition by members of a nation-wide Tea Party to a uniform set of demanding standards across this country, even though most of the Common Core opponents clearly identify themselves as parents and teachers. That is not the basic problem. The stakes are much, much […]
It’s odd to observe just how oblivious the media have been to the chaotic roll-out of Common Core (what some are already calling ObamaCore) and the disturbing parallels with the so-called Affordable Care Act. These are the two major domestic initiatives of the Obama administration, and while attention has been paid recently to the potentially millions of individuals losing their health plans, still precious little (respectful) attention has been paid to angry parents, teachers, and school administrators. It is the case that the less the public knows about their growing hostility to the long tentacles of Common Core, the harder it will be for the public to understand that the end game is the same—central control of two major segments […]
In How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk (Pioneer Institute White Paper No. 89, September 2012), Mark Bauerlein and I explain why teachers and superintendents believe that Common Core reduces literary study to about 50% in the English class and where the 70% figure for informational texts comes from. With careful reading, it is possible to understand the confusion that David Coleman and Susan Pimentel created in the English curriculum, in reporters’ minds, and in the minds of so-called policy advisers. Please take note: Michael Brickman, Tim Shanahan, Politifact, Fox News, and USA Today. The following section is from pp. 8, 9, and 10 of that 2012 report. “Section II. Unwarranted Division of Reading Instructional Time The reduction […]
Unless high school students can prepare for a calculus course in grade 12 or as college freshmen, they are unlikely to become science, engineering, or mathematics majors. Common Core doesn’t let them. James Milgram’s analysis in Lowering the Bar makes that very clear. Interestingly, Jason Zimba, the lead writer of the Core’s math standards, noted as much at the March 2010 meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. He explained that Common Core’s version of college readiness means getting kids ready for non-selective community and state colleges. According to the official minutes of the meeting: “Mr. Zimba said that the concept of college readiness is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.” Just in case that isn’t clear […]
In October, members of the New Hampshire legislature heard Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, tell them more fibs than Pinocchio ever dreamed up. How many legislators will prove to be gullible Geppettos is another matter. We don’t know. But here’s an analysis of just a few paragraphs of his fib-filled comments. 1. A well-known mathematician, who was a member of the Validation Committee for the Common Core, has denounced the math standards as too low in relation to the standards set by other countries; this proves that the standards are dumbed down. They are not only lower than the standards of other countries, but also the standards of Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, Minnesota, and […]
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 […]
The New York Times is suffering from a split personality about what the quality of public education should be. It claims it likes rigor. At the same time, it supports Common Core and its even poorer relative in the standards arena, Next Generation Science Standards. The NYT has apparently infected its education reporters with the same schizophrenia. Kenneth Chang is the latest victim. On September 2, the NYT published his article titled “With Common Core, Fewer Topics but Covered More Rigorously.” Centered on Common Core math, the article implicitly praises New York officials who claim Common Core math is modeled on “the teaching strategies” of high-performing countries—especially “attention to memorization and recall, drilling around math facts.” The article ends with […]
In the original version of David Steiner’s talk on the meaning of the drop in test scores in New York State, he says: “The truth we are now trying to tell, for the first time, is relative to something called college- and career-readiness, roughly equivalent to the ability to enter a community college without the need for remediation.” That statement is also in the version appearing in his Education Next blog. Something happened to this truth in his op-ed in the New York Post on August 8, 2013. The truth is still relative to something called college-and career-readiness, but that concept is now “roughly equivalent to the ability to enter and succeed in college.” Not “community college.” Two very different […]
How to Upgrade Teacher and Administrator Preparation Programs The part of public education that has received the least attention for reform is the most important: whom our education schools admit and how they are prepared to be teachers, administrators, education researchers, and education policy makers. Although there is very little high quality research on these topics, useful information for reforming education schools came from the massive review undertaken by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel for its report in 2008. It found no relationship between student achievement and traditional teacher education programs, certification status, and mentoring and induction programs. That means that teachers who have completed a traditional teacher preparation program, hold a teaching license, and have participated in an induction […]
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 egalitarian tentacles are now slithering towards high school diploma requirements. In states that respond to a current prod to “align” their high school graduation requirements in mathematics with the academic level reflected in Common Core’s college-readiness mathematics standards, the mathematics coursework taken by our low-achieving high school students may indeed become stronger. But if such an alignment is not strategically altered, states may be unwittingly reducing other students’ participation in more demanding mathematics curricula and their academic eligibility for undergraduate STEM majors and internationally competitive jobs in mathematics-dependent areas. Common Core has carefully disguised its road to equally low outcomes for all demographic groups, and many state boards of education may quickly follow up their unexamined adoption of […]
There isn’t just one fatal flaw in Common Core’s English language arts standards: its arbitrary division of reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for “informational” text and 9 for “literature” at all grade levels from K to 12. Based on these numbers, school administrators have told English teachers to reduce literary study to less than 50% of reading instructional time. And their interpretation of this 50/50 division in ELA reading standards has not been contradicted by the chief architect of Common Core’s literature standards, now head of the College Board, who has managed to confuse everyone by insisting that literature remains the focus of the English class. A second flaw is Common Core’s writing standards. They are an intellectual […]
What could states do once implementation of Common Core’s standards is halted? Most states are unlikely to want to return to the standards they once had, mainly because their boards and departments of education loudly claimed they were adopting more rigorous standards when they adopted Common Core. In most cases, they would be rightly accused of returning to equally non-rigorous standards. It will also be difficult for 45 state boards and departments of education to say to the public and their state legislators that Common Core’s standards are really not more rigorous than what they had because they will look foolish. How can they justify having voted to adopt Common Core’s standards and committing the state to huge future technological […]
One of the most puzzling phenomena in recent years is the unquestioned acceptance by seemingly rational people of the many claims made by the proponents of Common Core’s standards. The claims have been made repeatedly despite the fact that they have been shown to be either lies or simply utopian hopes. So, what are the lies or the utopian hopes? And why do others repeat these lies or pie-in-the-sky claims about what these standards will achieve? First, we are regularly told that Common Core’s standards are internationally benchmarked. Joel Klein, former head of the New York City schools, most recently repeated this myth in an interview with Paul Gigot, the Wall Street Journal editor, during the first week in June. […]
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 […]
One of the sales pitches for Common Core’s English language arts standards is that a heavy diet of informational reading in the English class will increase “critical” or analytical thinking. But how are teachers and parents to know that black is white and freedom is slavery? Reading researchers know there is absolutely no research to support the idea that increased study of “literary non-fiction” or “informational” texts in the English class will increase students’ level of analytical thinking. No one tells us how reading “informational” texts could necessarily stimulate “critical” thinking better than literary reading–or stimulate it at all. In fact, the opposite outcome is likelier: reducing the study of complex literature in the secondary English class to make way […]
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 […]