The following is Part Two of a transcript of the Dec. 2, 2013 School Committee Meeting. For the links to other part of the meeting, click here.
8:05 p.m. to 8:35 p.m. (25:00 to 55:00)
The School Committee began to hear an update on PARCC or the Partnership for Assessment in Readiness for College and Careers.
PARCC itself is an assessment testing initiative aligned with upcoming national common core standards, and it will eventually replace the MCAS tests.
In Massachusetts, there’s an expectation to field test the PARCC test in the spring, with a vote in the fall of 2015 and possible implementation in Grades 3 and 8 in spring of 2016. High school students would see PARCC in the 2017-18 school year or the 2018-19 school year.
Olsen said PARCC has been controversial and several other states have withdrawn from the effort, and provided additional details on the possibility that PARCC and MCAS testing may overlap.
Olsen told the board that he and Assistant Superintendent Christine Francis applied to the state for an exemption on students having to take both the PARCC and the MCAS at the same time, saying it would be overwhelming.
He said that the state had given some limited exemptions, and one of the main reasons for the pressure was due to other states dropping out, adding additional pressure on existing states to provide an appropriate sample size to see if the test is effective.
An alternative was provided to allow students who take the PARCC test not have to take the MCAS test, which Olsen said was not acceptable given the data provided from that test which helped craft better learning practices for the town’s schools.
Keele emphasized that the board was getting an update on something that hasn’t even happened yet.
Francis said that the information regarding PARCC and which schools would need to take it came in last week. She also talked about how PARCC would be taken, with it eventually not requiring a pencil and paper.
She said that state officials said that PARCC data would come quicker than MCAS data.
Keele said the testing seems random, with Francis saying that it was chosen by Pearson, which is the company that makes the test, and the state has nothing to do with how the test is made.
Keele then asked if there was any discussion at these meetings when a district meets a certain level if it can be exempted from these tests, with Francis saying she had heard much pushback from local schools on the issue, and Olsen calling the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education “overbearing” on the issue and called the timelines “crushing”, saying that any local initiatives would have to be abandoned for this regulatory compliance.
He agreed with Francis that he had never seen the superintendents’ association so angry, with Keele saying he thought it was because certain people thought they were better than others, complaining about people from Boston telling Westford educators how to do their jobs.
Francis said that many of the programs that the state are doing have merit, but they are coming so quickly and in such large numbers and scopes that they are hard to implement.
One of the student representatives asked why she as a junior at Westford Academy had to take another test. Olsen said that she would not, but Francis said that her younger siblings would have to take the PARCC, if the state board of education approves it.
The student then asked what the difference was, with Francis saying PARCC is designed to have more open ended questions and be given more often throughout the year.
Harkness then asked about time management regarding test preparation and how time will be made up for PARCC preparation, with two or three classes lost to potential preparation. No one was sure how that will happen.
While Harkness said that everyone felt the same way about MCAS at the beginning and it was resolved, but she hoped that issue would be resolved soon.
Clay asked if there was any preparation for the test, with Francis saying none was expected, although the test would take three to six hours and there would be some tips on test taking and that the components of the test were as of yet unknown.
Clay also asked why this test benefits schools more than the MCAS.
Olsen replied that since Westford students generally top the nation that this test doesn’t dilute what is given by the MCAS.
School Committee member Margaret Murray thanked Olsen for pushing back against the state and asked about whether technology would play a larger role in test taking anyway.
Regarding the results, Murray said that with the upcoming field test, it’s designed more to evaluate the test than student performance.
She also said that open ended questions that test cognitive skills are better than multiple choice questions that are designed to test memory and trick students.
Benoit asked asked whether the school department would have to buy software. Olsen said no, saying it was only a networking issue. Benoit asked if there were any long term costs, and again Olsen said no, that it’d be similar to MCAS financially, only through technological means versus non-technological means, although that might not be the case elsewhere in the state with poor technological networks.
Benoit added that he had concerns about network security as well, with Francis saying the new technological director and the town technological director were looking at the problem.