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At Jackson Street, some pupils opt out of PARCC exam trials

School Principal Gwen Agna said parents of 22 of the 35 students set to participate in the tryout of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exam in English requested their children opt out of the test. Those students will be in class Monday and Wednesday with one of the fifth grade teachers, while the other helps to proctor the online test, she said.

Meanwhile, six parents Monday held signs outside the school to protest PARCC, which is being developed by a consortium of states and the for-profit Pearson education company.

“The biggest concern is that this is upping the frequency of testing,” said Vanessa Adel, who has four children attending city schools — including a fifth grader at Jackson Street.

“That means more preparation and more stress,” she said.

Nearby, school volunteer Libby Arny held a sign that read, “Testing Isn’t Teaching.”

Agna said she sent email and phone messages to school families last week explaining that parents have differences of opinion about the PARCC tryout.

She also talked with students in classes selected to take the online exam in English.

“I met with the fifth graders on Friday and told them if they are taking the test, that’s fine and if they’re not taking it, that’s fine,” Agna said. “We explained this is a pilot and we’re going to find out if it’s a good test or not.”

Northampton schools are among 1,100 in Massachusetts selected for test runs of PARCC this spring. The tryouts are aimed at helping state education officials decide whether to adopt the new “college and career-ready” exams in place of MCAS in English and math by 2016.

Other area districts participating in the PARCC tryouts are Belchertown, Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School and Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School.

PARCC tryouts were initially scheduled at five Northampton schools but at the request of interim Superintendent Regina Nash, that number was reduced to two: Jackson Street and JFK Middle School, where sixth graders will take the PARCC English exam in May.

J.C. Considine, chief of staff for the state education commissioner, said he had not heard of protests at other schools selected for the tryouts.

“Two weeks into the testing, things have gone very well from what we’ve heard,” he said.

He also isn’t concerned about the number of students opting out at Jackson Street. “We are assessing 81,000 students across the state and this sounds like a handful of students in a single district,” he said.

JFK Principal Lesley Wilson said it’s too soon to tell whether any middle school parents will request that their children opt out of PARCC, as classes have yet to be selected for the May tryout.

As they watched protesters on the sidewalk before the school bell Monday, several Jackson Street parents voiced support for the effort.

“Tests like this create anxiety and stress in the classroom and narrow the curriculum,” said Laura Anderson, the parent of a fifth grader. “I don’t think it’s the best path towards improving education.”

On the other hand, Laura Woodman-Crete, who has a third grader at Jackson Street, sees a benefit.

“Why don’t people want to see how our kids stack up?” said Woodman-Crete, who also has a child at JFK. “They get to do this online. And it’s important for college.”

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