The following is an overview of the third portion of the June 2, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For a list of all the portions of the meeting, click here.
A full video of the meeting is available at westfordcat.org
8:38 p.m. – The agenda then went to the issue of Common Core curriculum standards. Olsen said that several meetings have been done on the issue among superintendents across the state, particularly between school districts sticking with the MCAS test for another year or going with PARCC.
Olsen said that one of the advantages of the PARCC is that it aligns more closely with Common Core standards and is more rigorous, but that the infrastructure would need to be robust enough since the PARCC test would be done electronically.
The decision impacts only certain language and math testing according to Francis, and went over several options on how to proceed, saying that there could be different technological standards for PARCC at different schools if implemented.
Harkness then added that what is being discussed is just this year, with Francis adding that the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education deciding for all schools what will be done.
Francis then said that students that participate in PARCC this year will have a head start and that even if the state does not use PARCC that there will be an updated MCAS.
She added that there are some comparisons for potential PARCC results versus existing MCAS results, so the School Department could determine continuing student growth.
A decision needs to be made by June 30.
8:48 p.m. – Keele asked for clarification on federal funding that would be given for states that take PARCC, but Olsen said the funding may not be available moving forward.
Keele then asked Francis regarding the transitional period and the possible penalties that were waived due to fear from districts of poorer scores coming from the transition.
He stated that he did not understand how the federal government could make a better test than one made in Massachusetts, with Francis saying that Common Core came from the a consortium of states, although Keele said that was still outside of Massachusetts.
Kohl said is hearing that there are no benefits to move into PARCC outside of the fear of penalties in the future.
Olsen said more and more superintendents are leaning toward the PARCC, but additional information will be provided in upcoming weeks.
Murray then asked if students might potentially take MCAS and PARCC, and said that the move toward PARCC was trying to head away from the “mile wide, inch deep” approach with the MCAS. However, Murray was told there were no K-3 experts on the team that made the test and there are no adjustments for different grade levels.
She asked what the impact of these unadjusted standards might be for lower grades.
Olsen said he would be surprised if state level officials weren’t looking at this issue and that local superintendents need to band together to enact reform on this at the state level if needed.
Murray responded by asking if there were any specific efforts regarding this issue, and Francis replied that there were some public hearings on the topic.
Harkness added that she sees very little advantage as well to go to PARCC, citing issues such as technological capacity and the transition between the tests as well as likely changes in the PARCC that might make the trial period of PARCC meaningless in its potential final implementation two years from now.
Olsen then told the board he could obtain answers for any particular questions
Meredith Treible, lives in Chelmsford, goes to Westford via School Choice. She has two students in Westford elementary schools and has had a great experience, but has noted frustration with Common Core standards found by her children.
Treible said she liked what she is hearing regarding the School Committee questioning with going into PARCC and that she has found significant amounts of information from two Facebook groups against Common Core.
Treible then asked about the amount of tests that would be given, with Francis saying that it would go from two MCAS tests to four tests with PARCC. She asked if she could opt her children out of PARCC, which does not seem possible if it is chosen next year.
Treible also asked about privacy concerns, with Olsen saying privacy would be comparable to current MCAS.
Keele said that he and Kohl have been asked about this, but that part of it is the fear of the unknown.
Harkness asked Treible why she felt it might be different than MCAS, with Drivel saying she was unsure on the laws with MCAS.
Murray noted that the School Department is bound by state law on this issue, with Keele adding the School Committee will try to come back with a more definitive answer to the question.
Clay asked how likely Westford might go into PARCC.
Benoit then said he was shocked that superintendents across the state seem to be supporting this due it seeming to be an unfunded mandate.
Francis said that the state is paying for the test and Olsen that curriculum changes are already being implemented and are minor, but Benoit said those changes have been forced.
Olsen added that superintendents have fought back against certain things, particularly the timeline, but Benoit said that more districts should say no, that doing so would make a great impact.
There was additional discussion on this, with Francis adding Race to the Top funding has come already from the limited changes that have come so far.
Ryan then asked if the School Department’s technology would be robust enough for the test, with Francis reiterating that the test could be implemented partially via paper and pencil.
Kohl then asked if a vote could be made now saying she had enough information and she did not expect more, but Olsen requested that a vote be delayed due to incoming information related to the tests over the next few weeks.
Harkness said that she is expecting additional information related the cost of the transition.
Keele said that the board should give Olsen and Francis the benefit of the doubt here and then took comments from Becky Dixon.
Dixon said that MCAS has been reliable and was concerned when the PARCC will become reliable, with Keele responding that the same concerns were made with the MCAS initially.
Murray concluded the discussion saying that she would be shocked if metrics were not made available by September, but that they would not be made available before the vote this month.