New Assessments Likely for Nashoba Students

Published June 13, 2014 | The Bolton Independent &
Published June 18, 2014 | The Stow Independent

New standardized testing is on the table for the state of Massachusetts for the 2015-1016 school year.  Here’s what’s going on at the state and district levels and what it means for the Nashoba Regional School District.

The current timeline of the Massachusetts State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to replace MCAS with a new standardized assessment is spring 2016.  Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, explained why there is a need to transition from MCAS to a new assessment.

“Our current MCAS is one that has been with us for 17 years now.  There’s been a lot of advances in technology and what we know about assessment and our ability to administer more innovative approaches to assessment online – to look at how students do research, to look at their writing skills, to look at their math progression.  So it is time to upgrade our test,” Chester said.

The Partnership of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC testing, appears to be the most likely test for future implementation.  In regard to putting PARCC formally in place in Massachusetts, Superintendent Michael Wood commented, “It’s not inevitable, but I think it’s 90 percent likely.”

If the State Board of Education decides not to use PARCC, Wood said, “The commissioner made it clear that they would put in high gear a contract process for another provider to design a test.”

Commissioner Chester explained of a goal of PARCC testing is to ensure that all students are successful enough to move up to the next level while making sure the students, parents and educators have accurate indicators that a child is on track.  Another objective is for high school students to fully understand what colleges and future employers will expect of them.

If implemented, PARCC will be administered in grades three through nine and grade eleven.  Students in grade ten will continue to take MCAS through 2018 as it is their graduation determination score.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Education website, “PARCC creates high-quality assessments that measure the full range of the Common Core Standards.”  Wood explained the Common Core Standards for Math and English/Language Arts are embedded into the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.  It is currently unclear what will happen to science testing, as PARCC does not have a science assessment.

PARCC tests are timed and broken down into Performance-Based and End-of-Year Assessments in areas of English/Language Arts and Math.  The assessments are aligned to look at content in different subject areas and evaluate the synthesis of that information.  Wood described the performance-based piece as a test with “constructivist approaches to assessment.” He said, “Kids will have to use information in the assessment and build a logical solution to what the answer is.”  The end-of-year tests consist mostly of multiple-choice and short-answer questions.  Wood commented, “[PARCC] is a very good test. I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with that.”

PARCC testing offers online and paper-based tests.  Wood believes by spring 2016 the district will be ready technology-wise for the online version.  One thing that needs to be done is to better familiarize students with online testing.  This transition can begin by asking teachers to design and expose students to more of this type of testing.

Since PARCC Performance-Based Assessments have not been the norm, Wood believes that there will be a dip in those scores until students get used to taking this type of test.  “I think people need to know that with any new initiative there’s always the implementation dip – to remember that and bear with it,” he said. Wood doesn’t think that will be the case with the End-of-Year Assessment.  “I think that’s where we’ll show our strength,” he said.

The state of Massachusetts, with 17 other states, participated in PARCC field testing this spring and selected the Nashoba Regional School District as part of the process.  The purpose was to look at the validity of test questions and testing procedures.  Classes were randomly selected at different grade level in schools across the district and were given either a Performance-Based Assessment of an End-of-Year Assessment in English/Language Arts or Math.

In regard to the first PARCC field-testing window, Florence Sawyer School Principal Joel Bates said, “The procedures are a little different than they are with MCAS, so it was similar in some ways and yet different in other ways.  Where it’s different, [it] ends up taking more time to make sure we’re cross-checking with the procedural manual for PARCC.  And it’s the little things that [PARCC will] work out over time.”

PARCC will conduct one more year of field testing in Massachusetts and the state gave school districts the choice to participate.  The NRSD School Committee voted “not to participate.” Wood explained, “Much of what we’ve been doing around PARCC, other than the technology assessment piece, we’ve [already] been doing, so I really don’t see us needing to take the time out of the [2014-2015] school year.”  He added, “There’s also that big unknown, supposedly, that it isn’t going to be PARCC that we go with at all… We’re going to have something new regardless, so let’s wait a year and see what happens.”

MCAS is planned for one more year, and then the transition to PARCC or possibly another test begins.  With the new transition coming, Wood suggests people put it all in context. “I believe, based on evidence, people listen if we think we haven’t got it quite right.  I think the [Massachusetts] Board of Education is listening to the field and saying we’ll take one more year… we’re not quite ready to make a decision, so I appreciate that,” he concluded.