The following is Part Three of the June 9, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For an index to the full meeting, click here.
8:48 p.m. – The agenda then went deciding between PARCC and MCAS.
The Committee will need to make a decision on whether to keep MCAS for an additional year or implement the PARCC test early.
Olsen provided a timeline, asking one or more School Committee members to provide an upcoming meeting held by the state providing more information on PARCC.
The expectation is a decision should be made by the Committee on June 23.
There will also be more discussion among Olsen and his leadership team at their next meeting.
Olsen said he wants to separate this issue from the Common Core, and that the PARCC will likely be approved by the state and the MCAS is likely going away.
He said that students can adjust and that online testing systems like PARCC are the future and asked the committee not to be swayed by controversy surrounding the Common Core standards, which the PARCC assesses.
Francis then addressed the advantages of early adoption of PARCC, which included a head start for students in taking this “next generation” test, the district will gain more experience giving this kind of test.
She also said that PARCC results could be analyzed and that these tests will better reflect the upcoming Common Core.
Francis said that the PARCC tests differ from MCAS tests in terms of timing.
She then addressed concerns of the board regarding the PARCC test, including the transition and teaching educators on how to give the test.
Francis said there are concerns over bandwidth capacity, although the state is allowing schools to provide the test offline for the next four years, although the scores between online and offline tests may differ.
Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) may be impacted and that curriculum standards for teacher assessments may not be ready in time.
There are also questions on whether it is better for other districts to test PARCC and that there is already too much testing.
The state is still looking at potential adjustments for the time students have to take the test since the MCAS is untimed and the PARCC is timed.
She also noted there is still a lack of clarity regarding the validity of PARCC.
She said that it is very likely that the PARCC will be implemented by all Massachusetts schools in the future, and if not, some other similar test will be.
The town does not pay for PARCC, although technological capacity will need to be upgraded for PARCC.
Also, student data compiled will be comparable to what is done now for MCAS.
Keele then noted the timeline for PARCC is available to the public.
Meredith Treible from Chelmsford came to the microphone after talking at the last meeting. She appreciated the Committee’s efforts, but disagreed that the issue be separated from Common Core.
She also asked several questions regarding feedback on the test as well as the impact of timing on test scores causing anxiety on students.
Olsen then talked about Westford’s curriculum far exceeding current curriculum requirements as well as the upcoming Common Core.
Kohl asked Francis if she is okay with the Common Core, particularly at the lower grades. Francis said she is, and that strategies are given to help keep students engaged in reading, and that the Common Core is focused on literacy across the curriculum and that it was the job of all teachers to help teach reading.
She also said that it is the job of teachers to help early level students formulate their opinions through writing and that here has been movement regarding helping students understand mathematical concepts.
Kohl then asked about the timed aspect of the test, saying it may hurt students who require more time and that it may cause added anxiety among students.
Murray said she agrees with many parts of the Common Core, but she is concerned with ratcheting down themes at the 12th grade so it can be implemented to lower levels, saying that certain concepts were developmentally inappropriate to introduce at lower grade levels.
She then said additional investigation was needed on this issue.
Olsen said that Massachusetts superintendents are weighing on PARCC and changes may be implemented in the future, similar to initial changes to the MCAS after it began.
Benoit asked Olsen if the PARCC is like the SAT and whether there would be preparatory companies springing up like there are for the SAT.
Olsen said the PARCC would be comparable to what there is now for the MCAS and some time would be needed to reach equilibrium for the test.
Benoit then said he was concerned that no other nearby districts had made a decision yet, saying there was a fear of being the first district to implement the PARCC.
Olsen said this was because other School Commitees want to maximize the information they can obtain on this issue, and Francis said that additional meetings will be held with staff members, which is also happening elsewhere.
Harkness thanked Francis for providing the pros and cons, and then asked what the benefit would be comparing Westford looking at other districts implementing the PARCC versus Westford doing it on its own.
Francis said that the information from Westford’s own students would be more valuable than second hand information.
Olsen also noted that Westford shouldn’t wait until the last minute.
Ryan was concerned about losing classroom time due to tests, but Francis said that the schedule was changing. Olsen said that the different was not significantly different than MCAS.
Treible asked the board to look at a regent Washington Post story regarding Common Core and urged the committee to remain mindful on potential changes coming.