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School Committee tables discussion on pilot PARCC participation


June 25, 2014
EAST LONGMEADOW – The School Committee agreed to table their discussion on whether to continue piloting the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tests or going back to Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests in the spring 2015.

Superintendent Gordon Smith presented the recommendation of his leadership team based on data, anecdotal evidence and a student survey to continue PARCC paper and pencil tests in grades three through eight, but go back to MCAS testing in the high school. According to Smith’s recommendation, all schools would continue MCAS science testing because there is no PARCC equivalent at this time. The committee members, however, concurred that more time was needed to adequately assess the situation.

“One of my big issues is the timeline. I don’t see any value in doing anything without more thought,” Chair Deirdre Mailloux said, pointing out that the leadership team had just finished submitted its report on Friday. 

East Longmeadow Public Schools are facing a time crunch with regard to the decision. Smith explained that in order to become an “early adopter,” the School Committee must make a decision to utilize the PARCC assessments by June 30. The final deadline for a decision is Oct. 1, however, Smith cautioned that PARCC does not guarantee the district would receive the type of testing it requests at that time.

East Longmeadow was one of several local districts selected to pilot the assessment. After the 2014-2015 school year, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote the following fall to adopt PARCC as the replacement for MCAS as the primary achievement assessment in Massachusetts, taking into consideration feedback from the school systems.

The test was created to assess 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 with Massachusetts Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchel Chester serving as chair of the PARCC Governing Board. Pennsylvania is also a “participating state” in the PARCC Consortium.

Committee member Elizabeth Marsian-Boucher expressed disgust in the timeline, calling it “being a bully” with tactics put in place to push districts into accepting PARCC, a decision they may not be ready for by June 30.

Marsian-Boucher also expressed concerns that while East Longmeadow Public Schools would continue high standards for teaching and curriculum either way, utilizing PARCC could set some students back when it comes to MCAS testing required for graduation, citing an earlier statement from Smith in which he said the MCAS competency requirement would be in effect until at least 2016. She said she felt students need to have a greater comfort level with a test that determines their future.

“I feel like our kids are being used as guinea pigs and I say they should go fool around in other states,” she said.

Member William Fonseca and Smith both cautioned that even if PARCC is not adopted in Massachusetts, it is likely the state would incorporate a similar “next generation” test.

“Something is coming. We have to get [the students] ready and thinking about this kind of test,” Fonseca said. “It may not be PARCC, but it is going to look like PARCC and kids need to be ready for the elements in those tests.”

Member Greg Thompson said, “I see value in waiting,” adding that much could be gleaned from assessing what other districts are doing.

Fonseca said according to data he has received from the state, of the approximately 90 districts that have made a decision, it has been “almost a 50-50 split” between those who have agreed to continue the PARCC pilot and those reverting back to MCAS testing.

Smith explained that the leadership team’s recommendation for paper and pencil testing in elementary schools was primarily a response to technological issues. While the School Department worked with Information Technology Director Ryan Quimby to create a system that would streamline the computer-based testing, there were myriad problems on the part of Pearson Educational Inc., the company that administers the test.

He added that when the assessments worked properly, students enjoyed the online assessments, however, the district is still in a transitional period technologically and does not meet the two students to one computer ratio that is recommended by PARCC assessment developers.

“Next year is going to be a critical year for us when introducing more technology into our schools,” he said, indicating that successful PARCC computer-based testing could be more attainable in the near future.

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