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Hampden-Wilbraham School Committee votes against PARCC


June 18, 2014
By Chris Maza
chrism@thereminder.com

WILBRAHAM – The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee voted in support of Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea’s recommendation on behalf of the district not to administer Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tests in 2015.

O’Shea stressed that this decision was for next school year only and did not reflect a recommendation to dismiss the test altogether.

“This is just for the second year of the field test, essentially, for the spring of 2015,” he said. “If the committee chose to commit to PARCC in the spring of next year, the question there would be to go with the computer-based test or the paper-based test in grades three through eight.”

After the 2014-2015 school year, the second for PARCC pilot testing in districts across the state, including the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District  (HWRSD), the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote the following fall as to whether or not PARCC will be adopted in Massachusetts, taking into consideration feedback from the school systems.

PARCC testing was developed as an assessment tool to gauge student achievement based on new Common Core standards, which were adopted into the Massachusetts educational frameworks in 2010. The PARCC committee consists of 13 member states and the District of Columbia. Pennsylvania is also a “participating state” in the PARCC Consortium.

Massachusetts is a governing state in that consortium with Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchel Chester serving as chair of the PARCC Governing Board.

O’Shea reminded the committee that even if PARCC testing is ultimately rejected by the state, it would not signal the end of standardized testing and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) would most likely continue with an amended format that would simulate the PARCC exam and the district would still face challenges.

“Even if the PARCC exam disappeared tomorrow, we still would have the burden of standardized testing. We’re testing at grades three through eight and grade 10 right now and [whether] PARCC or MCAS, it’s a challenge to administer standardized exams in ELA [English language arts], math and science in the way it is currently set up. It consumes a lot of administrative time, it consumes a lot of teaching time and it consumes a lot of student time,” he said.

“It’s important that as we as a community talk about the demands of standardized testing we understand that PARCC is not the beginning of standardized testing. We have been engaged in standardized testing for a long time. I think there needs to be significant conversation in this district, across the state [and] across the country about the proper role of standardized testing,” he continued.

O’Shea’s recommendation was to maintain its current practices and resume (MCAS) testing next school year due to a number of concerns, including issues related to the implementation of PARCC tests. The committee voted unanimously in agreement of the findings of his administrative team.

“There were technology challenges and administrative challenges,” he said. “Those challenges were significant and our position would be to let others work the kinks out in the spring of 2015 and see if there is any success in soothing the technology demands, creating better administrative manuals [and] making sure there are better practices for the administration of that test.”

In addition, and perhaps even more important, O’Shea said, was the district’s need to “focus on teaching and learning rather than the administration of a second new standardized test.” He said the district would still plan on administering MCAS tests, but stated the district’s leadership team’s opinion that giving another standardized test on top of that would be “a distraction.”

“We want to focus on what we do best,” he said.

O’Shea also spoke to the importance of maintaining continuity in data when monitoring student success.

“We believe if we remain with the MCAS test, we would be able to maintain that long, historic look at achievement data that we have been getting good at using for instruction and delivering better services to our children,” he said.

HWRSD is one of the districts that has been especially wary of its involvement in PARCC testing and other mandates, many of which stem from the adoption of Common Core standards.

In January, O’Shea and then School Committee Chair Peter Salerno penned a letter to state legislators stating their concerns regarding the number and pace of changes in two years. They included the implementation of new ELA and math standards in all grade levels, the creation of a new educator evaluation framework, the development of a new set of district determined measures to evaluate student learning as part of the educator evaluation process, the implementation of PARCC testing, and the adoption of a new approach to teaching ELA as concerns. The cost of the changes and the training associated with them, Salerno and O’Shea said, was “conservatively” estimated at $1 million during that two-year span.

Former School Committee member D. John McCarthy has also been circulating a petition calling for the removal of the standards from Massachusetts’s education frameworks.

Parents have also been extremely vocal on the issue, both at an information session prior to the PARCC piloting and at School Committee meetings.

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