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Northampton gets break in new PARCC test tryouts

Interim Superintendent Regina Nash said she learned Monday that the state has limited the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) tryout test to two city schools: Jackson Street and JFK Middle School.

Nash said the change means Northampton can reap the benefits of trying out PARCC without overburdening school staff, since they will now be required to set up only one test at a time.

“This will give us the experience I thought we should have with what the questions are and what the test is like, yet not be overwhelming,” Nash said. “It’s doable.”

The PARCC English exam will be given to fifth-graders at Jackson Street this month and to sixth-graders at JFK in May. Both tryouts will use the computerized version of PARCC.

“We’re very pleased with what we have been able to work out,” said Nash, when reached at city school headquarters Tuesday. “They really listened to our concerns.”

Last month, Nash requested that Northampton be allowed to withdraw from scheduled “field tests” of the PARCC exam in English and math. A letter she sent Feb. 21 to the state cited “hardships,” including demands on administrative time and difficulties setting up the computerized version of the test.

J.C. Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the department did not want to “lose Northampton as a partnership district” in this spring’s tryout of PARCC and was therefore willing to reduce the city’s sample size.

“We thought it was important that the district and its students still get the experience of preparing for this test, especially if PARCC is the way to go for the future,” Considine said.

Northampton schools are among 1,100 in Massachusetts selected to participate in test runs of PARCC, which is being developed by a consortium of states and the for-profit Pearson education company. Field tests slated for this month and in May are aimed at helping Massachusetts education officials decide whether to adopt the new “college and career ready” exams in place of MCAS in English and math by 2016.

Northampton was originally scheduled to give PARCC tests in those subjects along with the MCAS this spring to students at Bridge Street, Jackson Street, Leeds School, JFK and Northampton High School. At Bridge Street, students were scheduled to take a paper version of PARCC, while those at other city schools would take the test on computer. None of the PARCC tests would be scored.

While a handful of schools across the state requested adjustments in their PARCC tryout assignments early on, Considine said Northampton was the only one that asked to sit out the test run completely.

This year’s PARCC tryout, which will involve 81,000 Massachusetts public school students in grades 3-11, is designed to “test the test,” Considine said. Next year, the state will offer districts the choice of using PARCC or MCAS exams in English and math.

Even if the state Board of Education adopts PARCC next fall, students will continue to take MCAS tests in science. In addition, Massachusetts 10th-graders will be required to pass all three MCAS subjects for graduation through the class of 2018.

The state is holding a series of community meetings about the PARCC tests, including a local session March 20 at Holyoke High School. A detailed schedule can be found online at www.doe.mass.edu/parcc.

Other Hampshire County school districts participating in this spring’s PARCC tryouts are Amherst, Belchertown, Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Hampshire Regional, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Hilltown Community Cooperative Charter Public School, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School and Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School.

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