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School Committee Votes 4-3 To Go With Early PARCC Testing

The following is Part Two of the June 23, 2014 School Committee meeting. For a link to the rest of the meeting, click here.

Video of the meeting will be available at westfordcat.org

8:02 p.m. – Olsen introduced Clery and invited anyone to talk to her about the issue of PARCC, followed by a reintroduction of the issue discussed at earlier meetings.

He said that there are three decisions that need to be made at tonight’s meeting.

1. – Whether to administer MCAS or PARCC

2. – Whether to administer PARCC to Grades 9 and 11 (Grade 10 will have MCAS until 2018)

3. – Whether to have paper based or computer based tests.

Olsen said that online assessments in the future are inevitable, and that PARCC assesses higher level thinking skills in a more significant manner than the MCAS.

He also liked the fact that going online was a different form of assessment for students.

Special Education and English Language Learners will take the MCAS next year regardless of the decision.

Olsen then again praised the PARCC for its greater comprehensiveness on certain topics, and that providing online testing would be helpful in the future.

He also said that several principals were appreciative of the PARCC, and that it would be better to assess technology needs sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, he recommended that the School Department go to the PARCC early, with some schools taking the test online and others taking it through paper means.

He added additional comments, citing the importance of comparative analysis.

Keele asked about the comment about the inevitability of MCAS’ demise, with Olsen saying it would be gone within two to three years, excluding for Grade 10.

Keele then asked about online assessments, with Olsen saying the online assessments can provide more rigorous and complete information in an online form.

Then Keele asked Olsen to tie into the Common Core and how it works with the PARCC. Olsen said that the PARCC was built to assess the Common Core, and that the Common Core has been around since 2011 and the MCAS has been adapted to meet those Common Core standards that the PARCC was built to assess.

DSC_0013Olsen said that some people are afraid of the Common Core for fear that the federal government is taking too much control, but stated that Westford will continue to meet its own goals above those of Massachusetts, which in themselves are above national standards.

Murray then said that the move to the Common Core was built to avoid assessments that were “a mile wide and an inch deep,” although it remains to be seen if that is what it has done.

Olsen said that there were conservative groups chipping away at the Common Core, with Keele correcting Olsen that there are non-conservative groups also opposed to the PARCC.

Keele asked about grade levels, with Olsen saying that PARCC not be assessed in Grades 9 and 11 next year, only focusing on Grades 3 to 8.

School Committee member Arthur Benoit went away from a recent informational session on PARCC with the belief that schools are not yet ready for this and the PARCC itself is not yet ready on multiple levels.

Specifically, Benoit said that the professional development assistance for teachers on PARCC had completely failed.

Benoit then wondered what would happen if PARCC fails since it is being solely developed by an educational company, noting MCAS would return in a new way under a new name to evolve with the Common Core.

He also noted fears of technical problems, including in Westford, which Olsen confirmed.

Olsen then talked about preparations done by faculty members and said that the state is investing time in fixing problems, although he could not guarantee that they would not happen.

Kohl then said that voting for PARCC is not an endorsement of Common Core and asked about the fact that PARCC is a timed test, also asking how long it would take.

Olsen said it’s difficult to equate the MCAS to the PARCC due to the timing, but he said that between the performance based component and end of year component there was eight hours of Grade 3, and more than nine hours at later grades for PARCC, more than for MCAS.

However, he said that there will not be a decrease in testing time in the future.

Kohl then asked about the teachers being possibly upset with doubling testing time.

Olsen said that teachers are always worried about impacts of hours needed for testing, but he said that larger tests are the future due to their comprehensiveness, and that even if MCAS was kept; it would also likely become larger.

School Committee member Terence Ryan asked if preparation was done this year if it would have to be done next year for other grades not involved in the PARCC this year.

Olsen answered, and then Ryan asked Olsen if School Department Technology Director could say if the School Department is ready.

Olsen said she could not, and that was why it would be tested in certain schools.

The discussion then went to the issue of whether tablets would be used and whether some students would be capable of using them, with Olsen saying there may be a possibility of larger tablets.

Murray said that the state should assist with helping regarding networking capabilities.

Benoit said the state had done this, but they had failed miserably.

Murray then said she had some concerns at lower elementary levels, and said she was reluctant to support the move due to only preliminary results from earlier analysis of the PARCC.

Kohl then asked about information regarding how the MCAS had been adapted to address the Common Core, with Olsen asking if Clery could talk about the item.

Clery said that there were several variables that may impact early data with the PARCC and that the state would not replace the MCAS unless PARCC was as good or better, but it’s not building something if PARCC is worse.

Benoit then said that new generation of MCAS was not being developed purely due to a lack of funds.

Kohl then asked Clery if it’s possible to have a smooth transition.

Clery said that after the first field test, there was a night and day different in terms of implementation.

Benoit then said that the original PARCC was administered by another state and they have not continued forward, with Massachusetts signing a new and better contract with Pearson, the company that developed PARCC.

Benoit then said the new contract assessed penalties to Pearson due to the possibility of technical difficulties, but said that he had heard what is being given this year may not be the same as next year in terms of curriculum.

Clay said he wished he had more comfort with this, although he agreed with Olsen that the students would be best served by this test and that the students would be better served with an extra year of the test rather than revisiting the test when it was required to address the issue.

Harkness said she had been trying to make up her mind, applauding former Assistant Superintendent Christine Francis on her help explaining Common Core, although she was concerned that the experience students are given next year would not be the same as the one they will get the year after that.

Olsen said there had been many changes to MCAS on an annual basis as well, and that’s an inherent part of any assessment.

Harkness asked if Westford initially participated in MCAS when it was introduced in 1993, Benoit said there was professional development.

Keele asked the committee if they could explain their vote briefly, with Murray saying she was going to ask for that.

Clay said that the students would be better served not being thrown in later versus getting an early start.

Murray said she was comfortable with concerns being addressed later, but that she was concerned with immediate issues. She said she was torn since she supports Common Core.

Benoit said he did not believe it was ready.

Ryan said he understands MCAS is going away, but he wasn’t sure if the state and Westford was ready right now.

Kohl said she was torn due to additional time used for testing, but she respected that this could be a valuable learning experience.

Harkness said she wasn’t convinced that the positives would outweigh negatives.

Keele said he is not a superintendent and thus, it would be a stretch for him not to accept Olsen’s recommendation and that his deciding factor was that MCAS will inevitably be gone soon.

Keele made a motion to accept the recommendation of Olsen, noting it would be a tough vote.

Keele, Murray, Clay and Kohl supported the motion, with the other members of the committee opposing it.