Testing College Readiness

Commissioned by the Massachusetts' Executive Office of Education, this study was designed by Mathematica to provide timely, rigorous evidence on how accurately two tests (MCAS and PARCC) assess college readiness.  Prior to its authorization, there was no reliable evidence that could demonstrate whether the new Common Core–aligned assessments (PARCC or Smarter Balanced) provide accurate information about which students are prepared for success in college.  Based on the findings, the authors found that the PARCC and MCAS 10th-grade exams do equally well at predicting students’ college success, as measured by first-year grades and by the probability that a student needs remediation after entering college. Scores on both tests, in both mathematics and English language arts (ELA), are positively correlated with students’ college outcomes and the differences between the predictive validity of PARCC and MCAS scores were modest. In addition, the study also found that PARCC’s cutoff scores for college-and career-readiness in math are set at a higher level than the MCAS proficiency cutoff and are better aligned with what it takes to earn “B” grades in college math.

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This study is unique in its design to try and address a question for Massachusetts’ Education System leaders of whether to continue using their state assessment (MCAS), which was revised to align with the Common Core, or switch to a “next-generation” test that was specifically designed for the Common Core—and to assess students’ readiness for college. While the study was Massachusetts specific, many other states that have signed on to Common Core are confronted with similar decisions about current student assessment systems and changes they might make give new flexibilities in accountability provide by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The study provides both useful insight and questions for states as they consider changes to their accountability system. An added value is a link to a podcast where two of the study’s authors discuss its findings and implications.