Carlisle School Committee discusses PARCC pilot program

by Karina Coombs

During the Carlisle School Committee’s December 4 meeting Superintendent Joan Wickman announced that Carlisle had been chosen by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to participate in a pilot program for the PARCC test in the spring. The Partnership Assessment for Readiness to College and Career (PARCC) is an online English Language Arts (ELA) and math assessment for grades 3 to 11 being developed by Pearson, an educational assessment development firm. It will most likely replace the MCAS in the years to come according to Wickman.

As part of the state’s alignment with the Common Core standards, the PARCC will be piloted this spring before it begins to roll out in 2015/2016. Massachusetts is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia to accept the Common Core educational standard, voted in by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The [PARCC] is a consortium of 18 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers,” according to the PARCC website (www.parconline.org). The assessment was developed by Pearson, with Race to the Top funds awarded from the U.S. Department of Education. While the test has been adopted by other states, some of them sight unseen, Massachusetts has yet to fully endorse it according to Wickman. 

Wickman explained that while 15% of a school district’s students are typically selected to participate in the pilot, nearly 50% of Carlisle students in grades four, six and eight were selected. She believes this is because district size was not factored into the sampling process.

While grades four, six and eight each have four sections, only two sections from each grade were selected for the pilot. Wickman is requesting that all sections be included in the testing process. 

While participating in the pilot is not optional, there are possible options for taking the exam. The first option would have all students take the MCAS and 50% of the students also take the PARCC, resulting in half the students being double tested. The second scenario would allow for students taking the PARCC to be exempt from the MCAS. The final option, and one that Wickman is inquiring about, is petitioning the state to allow all students to take only the PARCC and have everyone exempt from the math and ELA MCAS. “This way everyone takes the same test,” she said.

Wickman noted that Carlisle Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) parents had already approached her with their concerns about students with Individualized Education Plans being double tested. Staff has also spoken with Wickman and believes double testing would be “extremely rigorous.” 

While the assessment is electronic and allows for easier data collection, Carlisle would not receive any specific student results from the exam from either Pearson or the state. “We would get global results,” explained Wickman, assuring the committee that Carlisle would maintain its level 1 status despite not receiving any student results. Level 1 is the highest performance level a school or district can reach in the state as determined by accountability reports. “Some parents will be concerned about this,” said Chair Mary Storrs. “Many parents wouldn’t want their kids double tested, but many parents would also want to know the results.” “I think this is a ridiculous approach to testing,” said member Bill Fink. “There are better ways to do this.”

Wickman is waiting to make her final decision until she hears back from Pearson and the state about including all grade sections in the pilot. “There is an acknowledgement that children who struggle would have a tough time with this,” she said. ∆