A spokesman for Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is overseeing the field tests, said the state is aware of the technological divide between districts giving the test online and those administering a paper version. The state is working on finding or providing money for technology upgrades, said spokesman J.C. Considine.
“We’re moving towards a more digital learning environment, and online testing is a key part of this,” said Considine. “But we realize there’s going to be some capacity issues.”
A bond bill, recently approved by the state House of Representatives and headed for the Senate, would provide more than $38 million for school districts to expand broadband Internet capacity.
Massachusetts schools are also be eligible for the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate Program. The FCC is expected to pump an extra $2 billion into the program to provide more high-speed broadband access for schools over the next two years.
The PARCC testing system was developed by a consortium of more than a dozen states including Massachusetts and will be taken in two parts over the next four months. The first part assesses writing skills and proficiency on math problems, while the second part will test reading comprehension and math concepts. Results don’t count and won’t be released to parents or the schools.
School districts that don’t participate in the trial will have access to sample tests. The state plans to expand the field-testing to other districts in the 2014-15 school year. All told, half of the state’s public school students will take the new exam. In fall 2015, the state Board of Education will decide whether to replace MCAS with the PARCC assessments.
Considine said the state is taking a cautious approach, devoting two years to evaluating the exams, while other states are only doing a one-year test run.