Tewksbury Schools To Adopt Common Core Testing In 2015
The Tewksbury School Committee debates the merits of PARCC testing versus MCAS.
By a 3-2 vote, the Tewksbury School Committee voted, Wednesday night, to replace much of the MCAS standardized testing used by the district with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing, a system closely connected to the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Committee members Dennis Francis and Jamey Cutelis and Chairman Brian Dick voted in favor of the switch to PARCC, while members Krissy Polimeno and Lisa Puccia opposed the switch.
Massachusetts is one of 44 states plus the District of Columbia that have adopted Common Core and is one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia that are part of a consortium that is trying out the PARCC testing system in the 2014-15 school year. A second set of states is trying out a second testing system called the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
School Districts in Massachusetts have been given the option of utilizing PARCC for much of their testing or stick with MCAS across the board. Superitendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor said he was told this week by the state Association of School Superintendents that the districts were leaning toward keeping MCAS by a 60-40 margin.
But both O'Connor and incoming Assistant Superintendent Brenda Theriault-Regan recommended the switch to PARCC, noting it would give Tewksbury students a "leg up" on inevitable changes in standardized testing in Massachusetts.
"I've heard (the State Commissioner of Education) say many times that there will be a new test," said Regan. "MCAS doesn't serve our needs anymore."
The question is whether the PARCC testing is going to be around in another 2-3 years because this has become a political issue. But whether or not it is PARCC, there will be a PARCC-like test in our future," said O'Connor. "My recommendation is based on what I believe is in the best interests of our students and our schools."
As adopted, PARCC testing will be given to students in grades 3-8 using paper testing forms and to students in Grade 9 and Grade 11 using computer-based tests.
Because of state requirements for next three years, students in Grade 5 and Grade 8 will still take MCAS science tests and students in Grade 10 will take MCAS English/Language Arts and Math tests as a graduation requirement,
Standardized test results are one of the determining factors in competing for Federal Race to the Top Education Grants. However, according to Regan, schools using PARCC will not be penalized if their scores go down during the first year of the new tests.
In voicing their opposition to making the change to PARCC, both Polimeno and Puccia said they felt there was no benefit for the district to "rush into" new testing when a final determination on which testing method will be used has yet to be made.
"If we could hold off for a year, I'd like to see that," said Puccia, adding that she was concerned about costs associated with the testing transition.
"This is definitely an education decision for me, not a political one," added Polimeno. "I want to support the administration but tonight I'm not going to. I think this is pre-mature."
But Francis felt the opportunity to get started with a new standardized test with no risk to the district's ranking was a great opportunity.
"I think it's important to take this (PARCC) test and run with it," he said. "It gives us a chance to see what we do well and what we don't do well."
The tie-breaking vote was cast by Chairman Brian Dick, who said on such a complex issue, he chose to rely on the expertise of the superintendent.
"The way I look at it is to look at the recommendation of the superintendent and assistant superintendent and take these to heart," he said.
The battle over Common Core State Standards and the associated testing will next move to the ballot box.
The Tewksbury Republican Town Committee is in the process of compiling the needed signatures to place an article on the warrant for the Fall Special Town Meeting that would call on Tewksbury officials to reject Common Core and opt-out of the curriculum requirements. According to TTRC members, the language of the article has already been approved by Town Clerk Denise Graffeo. Signatures of 100 registered Tewksbury voters are needed to get the article on the warrant.
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