Lenox Schools opt out of second year of field-testing new PARCC exam
LENOX -- Following a strong recommendation from the school district's administration and faculty, the School Committee has voted unanimously to offer MCAS tests for the 2014-15 academic year, bypassing a second year of field-testing the new PARCC exams aligned with Common Core English and math curriculum standards.
Superintendent Edward W. Costa II told committee members on Monday night that he and other Lenox administrators attended six months of meetings with state officials about the choice between the two testing systems earlier this year.
Districts were facing a June 30 deadline to notify the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education of their decision for next year's testing in order to guarantee their choice.
He noted that the administrative team's recommendation to continue MCAS and skip PARCC was unanimous.
"First of all, we believe it's not really a choice of either-or," Costa explained. "It's actually a choice of doing one assessment or both assessments."
PARCC stands for Partner ship for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. So far, about 55 percent of school districts statewide have chosen to "pilot" test the new exams for a second year in 2014-15, while the rest, including several in Berkshire County besides Lenox, voted to stay with MCAS.
In grades 5, 8 and in high school, Costa stated, "all students have to take MCAS science and technology even if a district votes to do PARCC testing, because PARCC only measures Common Cure curriculum -- English Language Arts (ELA) and math. There's no science so, by default, science would still be an MCAS test. That's why, if you choose PARCC, you'll actually do both."
Costa also noted that, according to current state law, every 10th grader must pass ELA, math and science-tech MCAS competency tests in order to graduate.
Districts that choose to stay with MCAS next year will continue to receive performance results for the students who take the tests -- that information would not be available under the PARCC system field tests.
Comparing the two exams, Costa explained that MCAS requires one test for each curriculum area in March while PARCC tests are given twice, at mid-year and at the end of the year. Special education students get an alternative test under MCAS, but that option is not offered by PARCC.
"We still believe that ‘time on task,' that valuable time that teachers and students share, continues to be eroded by additional testing," he said. "We're trying to figure out how to balance that" since the school district also administers its own local exams.
Costa pointed out that, as expected, while Lenox High juniors took the PARCC field test this past March, no information was relayed back to the district about how the students performed.
"Our belief is that you test kids so you can get diagnostic information back to help kids," he said. "If you're testing kids and you're not getting anything back, we see a gap in that rationale."
Pointing to unanimous faculty support for staying the course with MCAS for next year, Costa said, "It's not that we're against PARCC, it's just that there are too many unanswered questions still."
After very brief discussion, the School Committee voted 7-0 to adopt the recommendation for one more year with MCAS, pending a state decision on which testing system to use in future years. The state Board of Education plans to decide in the fall of 2015 whether to phase out MCAS and switch all school districts to PARCC, a consortium of 14 states and Washington, D.C., led by Massachusetts Educa tion Commissioner Mit chell Chester.
During a recent briefing for reporters, Chester said he was pleased with the first year's tryout of PARCC that involved more than 80,000 students across the state in March.
"I refer to it as a test drive," Chester said. "You wouldn't buy a car without taking it out for a test drive."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
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