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New school tests on horizon

Schools to choose MCAS or PARCC after trial phase

GREENFIELD — A handful of Franklin County students will be trying out a new standardized test this spring that could ultimately replace the MCAS exams.

It’s part of a two-year transition that state officials hope to make to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests — a series of exams designed by 19 states to measure the success of the new Common Core education standards.

The PARCC, which will be administered online, will test students near the end of each school year to see if they are improving and on track for college and professional jobs. It also includes tests that measure students’ speaking and listening skills and other optional ones that would test students in the middle of each year.

State officials told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday that the test will assess writing at all grade levels (as opposed to three grades under the MCAS) and would ask students to demonstrate more real-life applications for math and English/language arts. They said that the PARCC will produce faster results for teachers and administrators.

Too early to tell

Franklin County superintendents said it’s too early to tell if the PARCC will be a better test than the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests that have been used for the past 15 years.

Some, like Greenfield Superintendent Susan Hollins, are in support of an alternative to MCAS. Greenfield schools have been implementing both the MCAS and a separate gains-based test that measures individual students’ growth during the year.

Others are eager for the opportunity to learn more about PARCC when some of their classrooms test the test this spring.

This learning process for school leaders is especially significant because school districts may be asked to choose whether to use the PARCC or MCAS to test students next year.

The state’s proposed transition plan, which the state’s education board will need to approve in November, includes trial tests this spring for about 15 percent of Massachusetts students in 3 through 11.

Under the plan, school districts would choose next year which test to administer. And then, the education board could vote in fall 2015 to fully adopt the PARCC as the state’s new standardized test.

For now, and for at least the next three years, all 10th-graders must continue to take and pass the MCAS to graduate.

But the state will allow other students who are trying out the PARCC this year to be exempt from taking the MCAS. That’s a decision that will ultimately be up to each individual district.

It’s unclear which direction the Gill-Montague Regional School District will go in, said Superintendent Michael Sullivan. The School Committee will need to weigh the pros and cons of having MCAS data for those six classrooms of students or subjecting them to two tests, he said.

Bob Mahler, superintendent of the Union 28 elementary schools, supported the trial process but said “the timing (with MCAS) could be a lot different.”

“Kids are going to pick up pretty quickly that the MCAS is a test that counts and the other ones don’t,” he said.

The state will need to give schools more money to implement computer-only tests, state officials told the education board Tuesday. It’s believed the computerized PARCC tests would ultimately cost less money than the paper MCAS exams.

Mahler said that his technologically savvy schools will still struggle to implement the tests without more support.

For now, some districts will try out the test on paper. John Carey, academic coordinator at Franklin County Technical School, said his school asked the state if it could take the computerized version but was told to stick with paper.

There isn’t a public list available of schools participating in this spring trial, but all of the county’s school leaders — with the exception of Hollins, who said she was unsure — said that at least a few classrooms from their district will participate. That list includes Four Rivers Charter Public School and Franklin County Technical School.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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