The Marion School Committee said good-bye to the old pencil and paper MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and hello to the new online PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) exam during its June 5 meeting.
Just as Rochester had done the night before, Marion chose to embrace the PARCC exam after a pilot of the exam at Sippican School and an informative presentation by Superintendent Doug White, who advocated for replacing MCAS with PARCC before the State stops using MCAS on its own accord in 2015. The Board of Education granted local school committees the choice to decide between the two exams.
“Whether it be a PARCC school or an MCAS school,” said White, “we can’t be both.” White added that if Marion decided to go with PARCC, the State would back the change by assisting with technology infrastructure support and professional development. The decision must be made by October 1, and White said the sooner the committee decided, the better.
“In 2016, [MCAS] will no longer be a viable test in grades three through six,” said White; however, for the time being, MCAS will remain a graduation requirement, and the science MCAS will also remain the same, for now.
Sippican School Principal Lyn Rivet said a select group of students who took the pilot PARCC test liked it more than MCAS because it was a shorter exam, but they had frustrations with the manipulation of the technology.
As Rivet explained, some students had difficulty navigating the exam, like finding the math calculator that the website provides for the test. Students who also went back to alter their open response questions were disconcerted when, after pressing the delete button, their entire open response questions were erased.
“Overall, the response … was that they were excited about being able to take it on the computer,” said Rivet. However, she added, “They would have felt more assured … if there had been some sort of practice involved.”
There are other benefits to adopting PARCC now before the State decides which exam they will issue in 2016, as White explained.
Students would get acclimated earlier to the online testing, and there is no risk to the school’s Level 1 status, since 2015 test results would not count against the school.
“What I see is an opportunity for our kids to be exposed to and have the opportunity to try this test,” said White.
But as School Committee member Christine Winters pointed out, there is no guarantee that the State will choose to continue using PARCC in 2016, so why adopt it now?
“But MCAS will never be here again,” said White. “Some other online test will be used in 2016 … MCAS is no longer a test that is aligned to the Common Core.”
Chairman Joseph Scott concurred, saying, “Experience is going to benefit us no matter what the (future online) test is.”
Assistant Superintendent Elise Frangos added another benefit to adopting the online test, describing the labor-intensive process of preparing the MCAS testing materials, sharpening pencils, counting test packets, and checking seals and codes.
“It is truly a gigantic labor,” said Frangos. “And if we could go to this (online) modality, it would be amazing.”
Winters pointed out that Sippican students have already engaged in the Galileo testing online, so what would be the added value in adopting PARCC?
“It equates to everything,” said Scott, “Practice, practice, practice…”
School Committee member Christine Marcolini saw the benefit of adding “time on learning” by doing away with MCAS, which takes place over the course of the entire day, while PARCC is just about 90 minutes long.
“Also, the amount of staff that has to be covering all that day long…” said Marcolini.
All committee members voted in favor of PARCC, with Winters abstaining from voting.
In other matters, the committee approved the plans for the new Sippican School playground, a $9,000 project that will be completely paid for by donations and private funding with no cost to taxpayers.
Physical education teacher Joe Resmini presented the plans that now include a black top area on which older students could play.
“Older kids have nowhere to play basketball or four square,” said Resmini. “The human body needs movement and it needs movement all throughout the day.” He said students’ brains become more focused and active, resulting in better learners. “It would definitely reduce the amount of behavior problems at recess,” added Resmini.
The committee also approved keeping Whaling City Transportation as the Town’s special education transportation, and they approved the YMCA lease for use of the Sippican School facilities.
The committee approved the School Improvement Plan developed in part by the Sippican School Council, as well as Frangos’ Professional Development Plan.
The committee welcomed new committee member Kate Houdelette, and said farewell to Director of Student Services Theresa Hamm, who is retiring at the end of the school year after over 20 years of service in the Old Rochester Regional District.
By Jean Perry