LENOX -- The town's school district will take a giant step into the wave of the digital future on Wednesday when triple-pronged web portals for parents, teachers and students go online.

Parents will see a demonstration during a multimedia discussion on Tuesday evening, which will also include a PowerPoint preview of the school district's involvement in a trial run of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) standardized testing, which may replace the state's MCAS exams next year.

The 7 p.m. Parents Night event on April 29 is at the Duffin Auditorium of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

All school districts have to purchase student management information systems, schools Superintendent Edward Costa said, in order to file reports to the state. The Lenox system will be using a version manufactured by Redeker Software, Inc., based in Wilbraham.

Homework assignments, report cards, and other information (including incidents, formerly known as discipline reports) will be posted on a secure site, much like online banking, marking the start of a gradual transition away from paperwork.

The company has developed web portals for students so they can download assignments and then upload their homework online to teachers without physically printing it; for teachers to transmit homework and other information, and for parents to see assignments, school schedules, lists of teachers, an archive of report cards, test results and attendance records.

To ensure privacy and security, as required by federal law, each user will get a secure login ID and password; parents will have one combination, no matter how many children they have in the school system.

Parents will be able to get their unique passwords for the voluntary portal, beginning Wednesday. Those who attend Tuesday night's preview can fill out forms providing their e-mail addresses.

The high-tech system will be unveiled at what Costa described as a "grand opening" on Tuesday night; starting on Wednesday morning, it will be rolled out for all users, offering "a critical mass of information."

Documents such as report cards and transcripts that parents and students want to keep will continue to be available in printed formats. But, as Costa described of the electronic system, "there will be no more waiting -- it's instant information."

No timetable has been set on if and when homework will be assigned and completed exclusively online, said Costa. "This in its infancy, but rather than hold it for another year, start with some of it," he said -- similar to a system in beta testing.

Also on Tuesday night, parents will get a "PARCC 101: The Basics" presentation.

The PARCC tests in math and English Language Arts align with the controversial national Common Core curriculum framework. Massachusetts is part of a 19-state group field-testing the exams this spring. Lenox High's 70-student junior class will take the all-day, low-stakes online test during the last week of May, but the results don't go on a student's record, Costa explained.

"In fact, the state says schools won't even receive any diagnostic feedback from that test," he said. "It's a dry run for Massachusetts and the 19-state PARCC consortium."

"We're trying to educate the parents," he added, "because they've been hearing snippets." During the presentation, those attending will be shown the practice test on the PARCC website.

To explain what's in it for the juniors, Costa will tell parents that it's helpful for juniors to have experience with online testing, which is widespread at the college level. Also, the students can check out their own technology skills and their handling of "timed testing."

"When they enroll wherever they go, at the bookstore they also get a PC or a tablet," he commented.

The state Board of Education plans to vote in the fall of 2015 on whether to ditch the MCAS once and for all in favor of PARCC.

As Costa sees it, "it's 50-50; it could go either way."

If it goes forward, PARCC testing will take place twice every school year, starting in third grade, and continuing each year, potentially through 11th grade.

For the 2014-15 school year, Costa pointed out, each school district administration can choose whether to give the MCAS or switch to the PARCC test, which is designed to assess a student's readiness for college and for 21st century careers. PARCC exams during the next school year would involve grades 3 through 11, with the exception of grade 10.

The field tests are being held in 28 Berkshire County schools -- 18 online and 10 in a paper version. Across Massachusetts, in 150 districts and 1,100 students, 82,000 students, about 8 percent of the statewide total, will participate.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto What: Lenox School District Parents Night, an introduction to the new online portals for students, teachers and faculty, and to the upcoming PARCC field tests.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Duffin Auditorium, Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, 197 East St.

Agenda: The online information system will be demonstrated one day ahead of its official rollout. Also, a preview of the new PARCC testing system, which may replace MCAS exams.