Massachusetts is exploring a switch from the age-old paper and pencil tests to an online standardized testing system for the public schools. State education officials today reported results of a test drive of the new system.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester said feedback from the field tests this spring was positive and helped to identify glitches. He said the state has worked hard to develop the new testing system known as PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) as a possible replacement for the current MCAS exam.
" It is essentially the same test we began giving 17 years ago, so it is time for an upgrade."
About 15 percent of Massachusetts schoolchildren in grades 3-11 tested the PARCC test this spring. A majority of the 81,000 students at 1,000 schools in 345 districts said they preferred the new exam, according to the state education department.
Massachusetts school districts must now choose whether to administer PARCC to all students in the 3-8th grades and to some in the ninth-11th grades in the round of required testing next spring.
" We anticipate roughly half the state will take the MCAS and half will take PARCC."
School committees are making the choice now. The Springfield School Committee is expected to vote at a meeting Thursday on which test to go with. Districts that use the new test, which adheres to the Common Core standards will not face repercussions if student test scores drop, according to Chester.
" This carries some risk for school districts that make that selection and we want them to make the selection without being concerned the results from the first year of PARCC will harm their standing in the state accountability system."
All 10th-grade students in the state will continue to take the MCAS. Passing the English language, math, and science portion of the test is a requirement to receive a high school diploma.
Paul Dakin, superintendent of schools in Revere, tested PARCC at three schools this spring and will go all-in next year.
" To us it was almost a no-brainer."
Dakin said a majority of Revere’s public school students are from low- income families and school may be their only chance to use a computer.
" I don't want a technology divide to contribute to an achievement gap,"said Dakin.
The superintendent of schools in Barnstable on Cape Cod Mary Czajkowski, said she will recommend using PARCC over MCAS next year.
" One of our concerns certainly is the shift in technology."
Chester said the state legislature is considering a $38 million bond bill to pay for new computers and network upgrades in the state’s elementary and secondary schools.
" Each school district has a different need. Some are completely up to speed, others have a long way to go to put the infrastructure in place."
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote in fall 2015 on whether to require all school districts in the state to switch to the PARCC testing system.