The state Department of Education is trying out a new standardized test, with some Vineyard students serving as their guinea pigs. This spring’s field test of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam may spell the last days of MCAS, the state’s standardized test since 1998. Unlike MCAS, which is state-specific, PARCC is a multi-state attempt to align tests more closely with the common core, a unified set of curriculum standards.
Nearly all Island schools are participating in the PARCC field test to varying degrees. Grades 6 and 9 at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School took the test last week, and the fourth graders at Oak Bluffs began testing on Tuesday. Edgartown and Tisbury begin later this week. West Tisbury begins next week. At the regional high school, 51 freshmen will be taking integrated math electronically in May. Students were randomly selected for the tests.
The scores will not be reported to schools.
Some schools have opted to exempt students from some portions of the MCAS test, given last month, to alleviate testing fatigue.
If chosen as the state test, it would be given twice a year; once at the mid-year mark, and again toward the end of the school year.
By administering a pilot this spring, the state is testing both the format and content of the test. “It’s an opportunity to find out what is working and what is not working, before it actually counts,” said JC Considine, chief of staff at the department of elementary and secondary education.
The field test is implemented in paper and computer format, but ultimately, the test would be given exclusively on an online platform.
However, some schools in the commonwealth do not currently have the capability to deliver a test in a computerized format, including Oak Bluffs. Principal Richard Smith said he was confident they would be prepared to take it next year.
“It’s a valuable experience for our school and our kids since it seems likely that the PARCC will replace MCAS,” said Tisbury principal John Custer.
Not all schools in the commonwealth have the technology to administer the tests, Mr. Considine said. The state is currently working towards identifying funding sources. Schools may be eligible for federal grants. Computer-based testing allows the state to test in more innovative ways, Mr. Considine said.
“Taking a test on the computer is a step in the direction of the future,” said John Stevens, principal in Edgartown. He said students have already practiced using the online tools available to them while testing — which include highlighting mechanisms.
Online testing will also make scores available earlier, school officials said. MCAS results are typically not released until the fall after spring testing.
Mr. Considine said the PARCC test has the potential to deliver “clearer signals” about what students can do and what their readiness is for the next level.
So far, 15 states are participating in the field test.
In Oak Bluffs, Mr. Smith said he was pleased that the tests don’t take as long as MCAS. He reported that the students who tested on Tuesday were all smiles coming out of the pilot exam. He said some of that might have to do with the prescribed time frame for the test.
Kids at the charter school, who took the test with pencil and paper, reported to assistant director Claudia Ewing that the English language arts test was more difficult than MCAS. “They said the questions were more complex,” Mrs. Ewing said. The ELA tests required kids to dig deep, she said, and write more lengthy open responses, according to anecdotal student reporting.
Mr. Stevens said he had found the test questions to be challenging and rigorous.
Even if the state signs on with PARCC after the two-year trial period, students will still be required to pass the sophomore MCAS until at least 2018 in order to graduate from public high school. Further, the PARCC test does not have a science component, so students will still take MCAS for that subject area.