At one point, all of Massachusetts schools used Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams to measure student performance. Now, over half of the state’s school districts have switched over to a new standardized test — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote next month on whether to replace the MCAS with the PARCC, and to fuel the fire, a new study commissioned by the stateshows that PARCC may not be better at predicting performance than MCAS.

Paul Reville is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who leads Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab. He joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to discuss the testing rivalry in the state.

What is going on currently with MCAS vs. PARCC?

It’s a tie in one part of the game. This test was really a test of what they call “predictive validity”—in other words, which test better predicts who will do well in college. It was pretty even, as far as the cut scores went, the cut scores on MCAS were a little low and seemed to need to be raised. That tells you something about one purpose for which these assessments are used, but it doesn’t tell you how these tests perform with respect to their more important purpose, which is what they signal to teachers about the content and pedagogy that we’re expecting in classrooms across the commonwealth.

What’s the bottom line?

I don’t think it helps clarify the important decision that the board of education has to make about whether to continue to go with the MCAS exam or to go with the PARCC as the new exam. I’m not sure this is going to be very helpful in resolving that decision for them.

Which one is more aligned with Common Core?

PARCC is probably more closely aligned with Common Core, but the MCAS has been reworked to be aligned as well, to some degree.

If the new test isn’t that different why should we change what already exists?

There are multiple criteria on which you’re going to have to base a decision as to whether this is the right exam. We’re trying to develop a test worth teaching to. One of the things I always say is that if you have a test that’s worth teaching to, and it’s as sophisticated and complex as the goals that you’re striving to achieve with students, then there is such a thing as a test worth teaching to. It will drive instruction in the classroom. Teachers spend time looking at the standards and developing curriculum. Where it really becomes meaningful is when the assessment questions come online, that’s where the rubber hits the road. Then they see that this is what’s being expected, these are the kinds of tasks that I should be doing in my classroom, this is the kind of work I should be presenting kids with. That, I would argue, is the most important purpose of the exams.

Paul Reville is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who leads Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab. To hear his full interview, click on the audio link above.