G-M on standardized tests: when to switch?
TURNERS FALLS — Like others around the county, the Gill-Montague Regional School District is standing in the no-man’s-land between the old standardized tests and the new.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests may be giving way to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in the near future, and Gill-Montague has already begun to incorporate the new tests.
Planning the future integration of the PARCC tests was a topic of this week’s School Committee meeting.
The district has a choice to make in terms of which big standardized test elementary and middle school students will take next year: the statewide MCAS, possibly fading but not simple to separate from, or the semi-national PARCC, which may be the wave of the future, but in the short term means the sacrifice of a universal dipstick for student progress and school effectiveness.
PARCC is a series of exams designed by 19 states to measure the success of the new Common Core education standards. Full implementation of the test is expected in 2016, but the test is in a trial period with a final determination expected in 2015.
Superintendent Michael Sullivan said the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has given the district a choice between taking the PARCC or the MCAS in the third through eighth grades. Last year, the state mandated PARCC testing at a sampling of grades in each district — sixth-grade English and seventh-grade math at Great Falls Middle School and fifth-grade English at Montague Elementary — with an option to take or skip the corresponding MCAS tests at those grades. Gill-Montague waived the MCAS requirement for its students.
“The admin team consensus is we would be better served going ahead with the PARCC test,” Sullivan said. The new test is online and Gill-Montague and others have raised concerns about the number of computers available in rural schools. Sullivan said the technical administrator has said the district does have the capacity to administer the online tests in those six grades.
“If you believe that PARCC is coming for good in 2016, I think we would be really well served with (students and teachers) getting our feet wet with this next year,” Sullivan said.
The state also uses MCAS scores to judge schools and districts, but Sullivan said the department will hold the district harmless, or overlook the absent scores.
Sullivan said he and other administrators feel the district might as well recognize the coming change and get going, accepting that the data isn’t going to be too clear for a couple of years.
School Committee members discussed concerns including whether the mix of tests will adequately prepare students for whichever they ultimately must pass in 10th grade to graduate. The discussion was preliminary and did not result in an immediate decision.
(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)