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Longmeadow joins list of anti-PARCC school districts

July 2, 2014 | Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – At its June 26 meeting, the School Committee voted to forego the second year of the statewide pilot of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) testing.

With the unanimous vote, the committee opted to continue its use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests until after the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education makes a determination on whether to adopt PARCC assessments to replace MCAS in the fall 2015.

Prior to the 2013-2014 school year, Longmeadow was among the districts selected to pilot the assessment tool, which aligns with the Common Core Standards adopted by the state in 2011.

Blueberry Hill School piloted paper and pencil tests, while Wolf Swamp School, Williams Middle School and Longmeadow High School administered online assessments. The district had an early decision deadline of June 30 to become a PARCC adopter. The benefit of adopting PARCC early is that whatever testing is requested by the district is guaranteed to be the test administered. Those who adopt PARCC by the final deadline for all districts of Oct. 1 may request  paper or pencil or computerized tests, but are not guaranteed to have their requests fulfilled.

Superintendent Marie Doyle recommended maintaining MCAS testing for a number of reasons, stating that while there are advantages to PARCC tests, including the ability for districts to receive results quicker, there is “still some adjusting to do.”

Doyle said questions on the test were difficult for students to understand and must be refined before moving forward.

“I believe the PARCC test questions need to be more clear,” she said. “I think they’re frustrating for some of our students and they need to clarify their expectations. “

Doyle spoke of the importance of familiarity with the test and its procedures for both students and staff. In addition to knowledge of the format and test-taking strategies associated with the MCAS exam, students would face a “huge shift” from untimed to timed testing.

While MCAS tests are untimed, she said, PARCC exams are estimated to take eight hours in third grade, and approximately nine to 9 ½ hours for grades four through junior year of high school.

She also stressed that the district has already developed protocols for utilizing data collected from MCAS results to improve services to students and has not yet done so for PARCC.

“It’s important longitudinally to see how our students are doing. We’ve been using this data over a series of years to track our progress [and] we have made changes to the curriculum,” she said. “We’re in the midst of some initiatives right now, particularly around literacy at the elementary and middle school and having that long-term data is really critical to see if the programs that we are using and the changes that we’re making are making progress.”

She added teachers and principals would need time to adjust to a new assessment protocol, strategies and related interventions and voiced concerns the ability of Pearson Educational Inc., the company that developed the test, to respond to requests from districts in multiple states in a timely manner.

Doyle said with more than 100 communities making a decision as of June 20, 57 percent had chosen PARCC, while 43 percent chose MCAS. Local communities have been split on the issue of PARCC testing.

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District recently agreed to go back to MCAS exams after piloting PARCC assessments last school year. West Springfield, on the other hand, voted to implement PARCC tests in grades three through eight. East Longmeadow tabled the discussion, not wishing rush the decision. 

Other Massachusetts districts identified by the state as “like districts” to Longmeadow were also split with Mansfield and Wilmington opting for MCAS and Marblehead and Westwood voting in favor of PARCC, Doyle said.

Committee member John Fitzgerald, a former Longmeadow High School teacher, said he is “no friend of testing,” but supported staying with MCAS because it was a “known quantity.” Committee Member Kimberly King said the district needed to do more work in integrating technology into the everyday curriculum to make students more comfortable with online test taking.

Member Elizabeth Bone said after initially supporting PARCC, she found through her research that she had concerns with the complexity of questions within the test and level of in-depth analysis required even at lower grade levels. Doyle said Bone was not alone in her concerns regarding questions and those worries were being reflected in comments made statewide.

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