NEWBURYPORT — The city’s public schools could be under a different system of performance testing by next academic year.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of 20 states, including Massachusetts, working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English language arts and math, which are anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers.
The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-2015 school year. School districts in Massachusetts will have the choice to decide if they want to use the tests at that time, and the state will then decide whether to adopt the PARCC system permanently, beginning in the 2015-2016 year.
According to the PARCC website, “the new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal from third grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support.”
Last week, the School Committee heard from Assistant Superintendent Angela Bik and faculty members Liz Kinzly and Emily Russin, who presented information on this year’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test results for grades 3 to 10 in English language arts (ELA), mathematics and science. Also discussed was a list of actions for the different grade levels with ways to continue to improve student performance in the three major disciplines.
MCAS testing will continue to function as the standard measure for performance and learning this year, but PARCC testing is slated to get a trial run in the district this spring.
Bik said PARCC’s Performance-Based-Assessment (PBA) and End-of-Year (EOY) online field tests for ELA and math will be conducted this year. The PBA tests are to be administered from March 24 to April 11 and the EOY exams are scheduled for May 5 to June 6.
Bik said one of the main purposes of the field tests is to give districts the opportunity to experience the administration of PARCC assessments. She also emphasized that no student, school or district results will be reported.
Supporters of the PARCC assessments say they are more performance-based than MCAS tests and will more accurately reflect a student’s progress and learning based on the standards adopted through the new Common Core curriculum.
“It will give students more opportunity to get creative and be able to show and explain what they know,” Bik said.
“It’s a more effective way of measuring a student’s success after graduation,” Russin added. “It’s a better indicator of how well a student is prepared for college and beyond.”
Kinzly said that the MCAS doesn’t match up with the Common Core state standards as well as PARCC.
“The instructional strategies we’re now using are not a good match for the way (the MCAS) test is given,” she said. “I’m interested to see how the field test goes. I think we’re headed for a better method of testing.”
According to last year’s MCAS test results, Newburyport had the highest scores across all grade levels and subjects among schools in the Greater Newburyport area. Eighty-two percent of students scored proficient or higher in English and 71 percent in both math and science. At the high school level, 97 percent of students performed proficient or better in English and 94 percent were proficient or better in math.
Committee vice chairwoman Cheryl Sweeney and committee member Audrey McCarthy voiced concern Monday about the district’s obligation to the students performing below proficiency level and what needs to be done to address their needs. Sweeney also asked about methods the schools will use to accomplish their objective under Common Core, to more effectively incorporate writing, vocabulary and language into the areas of math and science.
Bik said curriculum instruction within the district is about 40 to 50 percent of the way toward fully transitioning to the Common Core standards, adding that a complete implementation of the curriculum will take time.
Mayor Donna Holaday, who chairs the committee, talked of adjusting the budget to coincide with the Common Core curriculum.
“What resources and materials are we going to need to successfully implement these standards? We need to begin to plan for that going forward,” she said.
Several parents in attendance also weighed in on the state tests.
Parent Mary Foley said education is becoming “data-driven to the extreme” and is too focused on test scores to determine student achievement and learning.
“I don’t see how teaching to the test is benefiting our children,” she said.
Resident Ralph Orlando talked about the importance of career-focused education in which students acquire “a sense of confidence” to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, where there is a higher demand for jobs and higher opportunity.