Pittsfield Schools Weigh Transition From MCAS

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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Superintendent Jason McCandless said student reactions to the PARCC tests have been positive.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Superintendent Jason McCandless says a transition in standardized testing is inevitable, and Pittsfield now needs to choose how early to adapt its schools.

The Public School Committee will be asked this month to decide whether to embrace a transition to the newer PARCC Assessment (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) from the MCAS testing that has dominated Massachusetts education since the late 1990s

"PARCC, or some variation of MCAS that will look very much like PARCC, is coming at some point in the near future," McCandless told the committee last week, recommending the district begin that transition in the coming year. "We have the opportunity to prepare our students and our teachers early."

McCandless said that while staying with the MCAS offers safety in the known, PARCC or something like it will become a  necessary part of adapting testing to changes that have already been made in curriculum.

If the district opts for this, it will not be held accountable by the state for the results of these scores in its first year with the new test.

"I think we need to think about whether we want to lead or follow on PARCC," he told the committee. "We've been given the opportunity to be ahead of the curve on this."

MCAS tests, which were taken by Pittsfield students this year along with 500 students who participated in a pilot field study of the newer test, originated as part of the implementation of state education reform in 1993. PARCC began development in 2011 to more accurately reflect the Common Core curriculum standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that have now been adopted throughout the school systems of 45 states. While results for the pilot round of local PARCC testing are not available, the superintendent described the feedback from students about the test as "overwhelmingly positive."

McCandless said one major advantage he foresees is that PARCC will take up less time with testing and allow more for teaching.

"We made the transition in the Pittsfield schools to the Common Core curriculum several years ago,"  he said. "This move to the PARCC feels to me like a very natural next step."

If the School Committee favors making the switch, it is estimated that it will cost at least $165,000 to transition over by late winter of next school year.

The district will be holding a series of meetings for educators and others who want to know more about the new testing system, including a public presentation in Berkshire Community College's Koussevitsky building (K111) at 6 p.m. on June 17.

"I think this PARCC testing is the future, said Chairwoman Katherine Yon. "Let's hope we do it right."

"The more we allow teachers to teach the higher the scores will go," agreed Gary Riello.

In other business, the committee voted unanimously on a final vocational educational plan for the future Taconic High, whether in a renovated or rebuilt facility, culminating a process that has occupied attention for the better.part of two years.

The final career technical roster includes 12 programs: Auto Refinishing, Auto Technology, Alphabetical Assisting, Carpentry, Culinary Arts, Graphic Communications, Manufacturing and Machine Technology, Metal Fabrication, Cosmetology, Horticulture, Electrical Engineering and Early Childhood Development.  

A previous educational plan recommended by a New England School Development Council study and the School Building Needs Commission drew ire from many by omitting metal fabrication and automotive technology

"This represents a great deal of thought," said Yon. 

Tags: MCAS,   PARCC,   pittsfield schools,   testing,   

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