PARCC is coming! PARCC is coming! Or is it?
It was standing room only at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting yesterday as parents and educators crowded in to demonstrate their opposition to two pending state decisions: a potential takeover of two Boston schools with low MCAS scores, and replacing the current MCAS exam with a new, even bigger battery of tests called PARCC.
The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests are intended to show whether students are reaching the new national Common Core standards. They would be spread over two testing seasons, one in March and one near the end of the year. They would also expand mandatory state testing to two additional grades, 9 and 11.
With rare exceptions, students would take PARCC exams on computers.
State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has asked the state board to approve a transition timetable with field testing of PARCC items this school year, optional use of PARCC next year (each district would decide whether to use the new tests or MCAS), and PARCC required for all students except 10th graders in 2014-15.
Chester's plan prompted the Somerville School Committee to ask the board to back off and wait for the field test results before going any further. Two committee members, Adam Sweeting and committee chair Mary Jo Rossetti, carried that message to the board yesterday.
Sweeting reeled off a long list of major new state mandates that districts are required to carry out, with PARCC field testing the latest. "You should understand that at the receiving end of all these regulations there are real people who are overwhelmed," he said.
Rossetti, who is also president of the Mass. Assocation of School Committees, reported on a National School Boards Association conference where she heard New York officials describe the elaborate and expensive efforts they made -- $1.5 to $2 billion worth -- to make the transition to the new Common Core standards and to introduce a test similar to PARCC. Despite the heavy investment, scores plummeted dramatically, leading to a public backlash. The lesson: "Slow down. Bring school committees and teachers to the table," Rossetti said.
Commissioner Chester answered that he's not actually looking for a state board decision on PARCC for another two years.
Chester chairs the PARCC governing board, made up of the chief state school officers of the 16 states + Washington, DC, that are “governing” PARCC members.
[The PARCC website says, "Governing states have each committed to administer the PARCC assessments in the 2014-2015 school year."]
Citizens for Public Schools President Ann O'Halloran told the board that students are over-tested already and don't need more, especially not a test that will require third graders to type paragraphs on a computer keyboard.
She pointed out that other states that have switched to testing on computers have run into horrendous problems just trying to get the technology to work. Plus, she said, the computer format would hurt students who don't have computers and also many students with disabilities. And the PARCC items, althoughsupposedly designed to tap higher levels of reasoning, are not very different from MCAS items.
“Please don’t go ahead with this,” she said. “Look before you leap.”
Both the Mass. Association of School Committees and the Mass. Association of School Superintendents will consider resolutions at their annual joint conference in early November asking the state board not to rush into PARCC.
The state board will take up Chester's transition timeline again Nov. 19.
CPS has given three presentations on PARCC at community forums so far and we would be glad to do more. (Personal note: The three so far were organized by my wife, state Sen. Pat Jehlen.) Let us know if you’d like to host a forum.
To tell the state board what you think, you can use their joint email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please copy CPS, office@citizensforpublicschool