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School districts prepare for PARCC switch

TURNERS FALLS — For the first time in 17 years, a majority of Massachusetts students, including some in Franklin County, will not be taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests this spring.

Instead, the students will be taking the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test — a transition for which the Gill-Montague and Pioneer Valley regional school districts are gearing up.

For the past few months, the two school districts have been training teachers and staff to administer the new tests, updating the schools’ technology for the online testing and adjusting curriculum to provide younger students with the skills to take assessments online.

The two school districts were among those that piloted the new test last year and opted to administer them again this year to students in grades 3 to 8. And the schools are among districts nationwide that are testing or trying out assessments for the first time this academic year to reflect the Common Core Standards.

Frontier Regional and Union 38 Schools and the Mohawk Trail Regional School System chose to stay with MCAS this year.

The Greenfield School Committee has not made a decision.

PARCC is a national exam designed to test the Common Core Standards, which the state adopted in 2010.

While both assessments align with the Common Core, PARCC is designed to be a better indicator of whether students are ready for the next grade and/or colleges and careers, said Jacqueline Reis, state department of education spokesperson, who maintains MCAS is not a good predictor of college readiness. For instance, more than one in three Massachusetts high school graduates (who passed the MCAS) need to enroll in remedial classes when they attend public higher education, Reis said.

In November 2013, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education endorsed a two-year “test drive” of the PARCC.

Districts that choose to administer PARCC this spring will have their 2015 accountability levels held harmless.

About 600 students at Pioneer and 700 students at Gill-Montague will take the PARCC.

Pioneer Valley and Gill-Montague schools are focusing on aligning technology and infrastructure for students to take the tests online.

“We’ve been preparing for two years,” said Pioneer Valley Superintendent Dayle Doiron. “One of the things we’re being cognizant of is making students comfortable with a digitally delivered assessment.”

As such, the technology curriculum has been enhanced to prepare students and improve their keyboarding skills.

The Gill-Montague school technology curriculum is also adjusted to teach students the skills to take the test.

This summer, Pioneer spent $400,000 to update its equipment and Internet speed to deliver the test. The upgrades included changes to the operating system, replacing desktops, tablets and laptops and making software compatible. The school computers have switched from Windows XP to Windows 8 to align with the tests.

The Gill-Montague schools have the technology capacity to administer the tests with the exception of Sheffield Elementary School, which has the most students taking the test, Superintendent Michael Sullivan said. The school district is upgrading the school’s technology.

Teachers are also being trained to administer the test.

“Last year, it was a challenge for teachers to learn to give the assessment for the first time,” Sullivan said.

The state education department will provide training material for teachers, Sullivan said.

Pioneer school officials have also begun to work with staff to become familiar with PARCC, Doiron said.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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