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School district considers move to PARCC over MCAS

May 16, 2014 |

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The School Committee has until June 30 to decide if it will replace the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

The new test would be in place for the 2015 school year for grades three to eight.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Russell Johnston discussed the choice during the regular meeting of the School Committee on May 13. He briefly discussed next year’s budget, pointing out that the addition of Wi-Fi in all elementary schools would assist with the PARCC implementation since its offered in online and paper formats, if the district so chooses.

“PARCC is aligned to Common Core Standards,” Johnston said, noting that high school seniors would continue taking the MCAS until 2018 to qualify for graduation. He stated that during the first year, school’s would be “held harmless” and their level rankings would not change during the transition in the case that scores differed greatly from previous MCAS tests. West Springfield is currently a Level 3 district. If implemented, the MCAS testing would cease.

The PARCC website (www.parcconline.org), describes the goal of its method, “PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning. Because the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards, they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level. They will also provide parents and teachers with timely information to identify students who may be falling behind and need extra help.”

Johnston explained to the School Committee that the PARCC results would be equal to the grading scale of the MCAS, according to information from the Massachusetts Department of Education. He and the members agreed that further research is needed to understand how the equality will be achieved since the two methods tests student skills in different ways.

The superintendent gave examples of how the PARCC test differed from the MCAS. In the literacy section, students would read a poem and a work of prose about the same topic and then have to answer questions about the topic by comparing and contrasting the two pieces.

In the mathematics section, students are required to “apply their learning to real-world scenarios” integrating and applying the concepts they learned in the classroom. In a released PARCC example, the question requires students to use absolute value to solve a problem where a baker must make all his cakes the same weight.

Member Joey Sutton raised concern for stress students would face since there are two test periods, one to analyze student performance in the beginning of the year and one at the end of the school year. The MCAS only takes place one week out of the school year.

Johnston said he would research the two methods and see if there is a difference in the number and length of sessions. “However, and I hate to say this, but we did know this was coming. This assessment or something quite like it is coming. I think we have to decide how we are helping our students cope with these types of changes and not be overly stressed out by them; to take them seriously, but not to the point of exhaustion.”

Johnston commented that he is “extremely grateful” of the $40.80 million proposed budget that is a “huge relief.” The 3.49 percent increase would enable the school district to maintain its current operations, uphold contractual increases and avoid layoffs.

One unanticipated need for the district was an increase in the need to provide transportation to students that are considered homeless. Johnston thought the number of students in need of assistance would decline, but instead the number increased dramatically. Generally, the district allocates $40,000 for this service, but needs to increase the amount to $140,000 to provide for the state “mandated” service. The item is currently under review by the City Council.

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