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March 29, 2014

new test spurs school concerns

BOSTON — Massachusetts schools will test-drive a new standardized exam, and administrators say they are concerned about the technology demands of the mostly computer-based tests.

Tens of thousands of students will participate in the first trial of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. State education officials say the test, designed as part of a shift to national education standards known as the Common Core, eventually could replace MCAS, a hallmark of standardized tests in the Bay State for more than 15 years.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s public schools will take part in the PARCC trial that gets underway this week. Locally, Newburyport, Amesbury, Pentucket Regional School District, and Triton Regional High School are slated to take the test.

Newburyport is one of a few cities in the state using only the online test. It will be given on desktop computers to 100 students in the 5th, 7th and ninth grades beginning next week.

“It was designed as an online test, so you don’t want to give the kids a paper test because then you lose all the benefits of the online component,” said Angela Bik, Newburyport’s assistant superintendent. “But we also see this as a test of our infrastructure to see if it can handle it.”

Not all districts have enough computers or sufficient Internet connectivity to give the online exam. Instead, many will give the test to students the old-fashioned way, with paper and pencil.

“It’s a big problem, and we’ve made that known to the state,” said Peabody Schools Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola. Students at four elementary schools in Peabody, as well as J. Henry Higgins Middle School and Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, will take the exam on paper.

“The issue isn’t as much computers as it is having bandwidth for large chunks of real-time data,”Mastrocola said.

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