School Committee discusses, compares MCAS, PARCC scores

Nov. 20, 2015 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – It seemed at first like a case of academic apples and oranges.

There are differences between the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and Springfield students were divided between taking the two tests.

School officials were able to reconcile the scores, though, to show the amount of progress students have made as noted by the exams.

Paul Foster presented chief information officer for the district the results to the Springfield School Committee at its Nov. 12 meeting.

School Superintendent Daniel Warwick explained the city was waiting for the announcement from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) about what direction the Commonwealth would go in – either the MCAS or PARCC.

On Nov. 12 Commissioner Mitchell Chester said he would recommend to the DESE board to adopt a “next generation MCAS that would be given for the first time in the spring of 2017 and would use both PARCC and MCAS items, along with items developed specifically for the Massachusetts tests.”

Warwick said this year’s test was “a transition piece; it did better than expected.”

Foster explained 60 percent of the student who took the test in Springfield took the PARCC exam and of those students one third of them took the exam on paper while two-thirds took it online. Foster added the test scores were better for those students who took the paper version. He suggested students might have been confused by the amount of space they were allotted for answers for the on-line version.

School Committee member Denise Hurst asked why the test was presented in two different versions. Warwick said Springfield was given the option to decide for itself as was Boston and Worcester. The decision was left up to the principals of each school.

Foster said the PARCC test has five performance levels as opposed to the three of MCAS and School Committee Chair Christopher Collins said parents seeing the PARCC results might be concerned after years of familiarity with MCAS might be concerned.

Without explanation, Collins said there could be “tremendous confusion across the state.”

Foster said Springfield students have gained more in their Composite Performance Index (CPI) in the last three years (2012-15) than the state as a whole. In Springfield, the MCAS score rose 2.8 points in English Language Arts as opposed to 2.6 statewide. In math, Springfield increased 5.7 points in math as opposed to 3.2 for the state.

Despite the advances, there is still room for improvement. Comparing the Springfield scores with those of the state for the students scoring proficient or advanced for MCAS and Level 4 and 5 (the two highest score for PARCC) breaks down in the following way:
• In English Language Arts for PARCC, 31 percent of Springfield students scored in the two highest percentiles while statewide it was 60 percent. For MCAS, Springfield students were at 35 percent while statewide the percentage of 68.
• For Math for PARCC the district’s score was 29 percent while the state was 60 percent. In MCAS, the highest scoring students made up 34 percent while the state’s percentage was 60 percent.

In other action at the meeting, Warwick reported the district has applied once again to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for funding to build new schools to take the place of the Home Street School and Brightwood Elementary. Both schools were constructed in the 1890s.

Warwick said that Mayor Domenic Sarno has “pushed hard” for the new schools.

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