Not a Walk in the PARCC

Maggie McNulty, Staff Writer

Massachusetts students suffer through a strenuous series of testing each Spring. Barnstable Public School students recently finished hand-cramping their way through the MCAS, but in upcoming years, students may retire their pencils and adopt a new computer based testing system– PARCC. This past spring, some classrooms within the Barnstable schools were randomly selected to field test the new PARCC system.

PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers and is a computer based test that assesses students’ ability to be college and career ready though a series of rigorous testing in the fields of math and language arts that coincide with the ideals of the Common Core. On the other hand, MCAS is a typical pen and paper based test that tests the same subjects as the PARCC, but also includes science and engineering. The MCAS has been in place since 1993 and has been used since by Massachusetts’ schools to determine students’ eligibility for graduation.

An issue that Barnstable and schools around the USA have faced throughout this year is deciding upon whether to keep their current standardized testing platform or to change to PARCC testing.

Sophomore English teacher, Maureen Leveroni, was among the few teachers whose classroom was randomly selected to partake in the testing.

According to Leveroni, the students mainly complained about the technology. “They mostly said that they didn’t find the content to be too difficult, but the use of a computer as opposed to using a pencil and paper proved to be difficult. And they found the overall process to be cumbersome,” said Leveroni.

Sophomore Marcia DeOliveira, who participated in the PARCC trial this past Spring, said, “I prefer written testing and I found the test to be repetitive and overall pointless. I would prefer MCAS so I could go back and highlight the test.” Another sophomore, Liz Silva, agreed with DeOliveira, saying,“I prefer the MCAS much more, mainly because I hate taking quizzes or tests on computers. It doesn’t feel like a real test when it’s taken on a computer.”

At the school committee meeting held on June 18, Superintendent Mary Czajkowski said that the responses from the students involved in the field testing varied. According to Czajkowski, many of the elementary students found the test to be easy and had little trouble navigating the computer program. Although, high school students found the content of the test to be manageable, they found that using computers to take the test was difficult.

Preceding the school committee meeting, Bethann Orr, the technology head for BPS, said “as technology director for BPS, I can say that I will advocate for the use of the paper PARCC test, seeing as there doesn’t seem to be a sufficient amount of technology or staff available to make the PARCC testing available to all students.” Orr later led a presentation with Assistant Superintendent Marie McKay advocating for the use of PARCC in the paper form for the upcoming school year.

Within their presentation, Orr and McKay said that the test can be used for up to four years, which would give the technology department time to acquire enough technology in order to make a computerized PARCC test possible. PARCC also coincides with the curriculum taught to students, but it is constructed to help test student’s abilities more thoroughly. Another intention of the test is to better prepare students for college testing, Orr and McKay said.

During the 2014-2015 school year, schools won’t be held accountable for their PARCC scores. Barnstable currently ranks as a level two school system, meaning that if students score poorly on the tests, the school system won’t suffer rank wise, but if students do well, BPS can move up to a level one school system.

Committee member Fran McDonald presented the issues of both MCAS tests and PARCC tests in pro/con charts. One drawback of the PARCC system is that the subjects of science and engineering are not tested. Also, according to McDonald, nine out of 22 of the states originally involved in PARCC have opted against the testing system. This also brought up another point, MCAS is devised by the state of Massachusetts and includes some local input, whereas PARCC is a national test created by people not closely related to the lives of those living in Barnstable.

Czajkowski stated that “if it’s not MCAS, it will be something else, and if it’s not PARCC, it will be something else,” stressing the need for an adequate standardized evaluation system. When choosing between a “rock and a hard place,” as the committee members pointed out frequently, the committee eventually agreed that for next year, the paper version of PARCC will test students grades 3-8 and MCAS will be used to test tenth graders in the upcoming school year.