Ed board urged to take time before deciding student assessment course

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/11/17/ed-board-urged-to-take-time-before-deciding-student-assessment-course/

MALDEN, MASS. — On the eve of a potentially critical vote, educators, parents and elected officials pressed the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday to continue the conversation over student testing in a months-long debate, saying there’s more to be considered.

The board is on Tuesday is set to vote on Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s recommendation – announced last week – that the state develop a “next-generation” assessment, building on the existing MCAS exam and the PARCC test piloted by some districts this year.

Members of the public lined up in the Malden High School auditorium to share their views on the testing plan. While some explicitly supported or criticized the different tests, others asked the board to gather more information before committing to any route.

Suggesting a focus on how to close the student achievement gap, Rep. Marjorie Decker urged the board to take more time in their decision instead of implementing a hybrid she said was too confusing.

“What we have here is a potpourri of testing, more of the same with a side of what wasn’t politically digestible as a main course,” Decker said. “If we don’t have the answers today, I think that’s OK. I don’t think we should be putting something forward just so we can say we found a way to save face, we found a political answer.”

Decker is among a group of legislators calling for a three-year moratorium on the “high-stakes” consequences of state testing, including using scores for teacher evaluations, graduation requirements and district accountability ratings. The call has been picked up by teachers unions and several teachers who spoke addressed the board Monday.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association — which opposes PARCC, as does the American Federation of Teachers — said that the hours spent talking about testing “in all kinds of weedy, intricate detail” have come at the cost of discussions on creativity, imagination and citizenship.

“I’m going to invite you to step back from this madness that we’ve entered where all we talk about is the smallest, most meaningless detail,” she said. “Let’s widen our conversation, let’s bring more people into it.”

In his pitch for a high-stakes testing moratorium, Brian Kavanaugh, a former school committee member from Orleans, suggested that Chester’s salary, tenure and department budget be linked to student performance on his recommended assessment if it is adopted.

“If this is done, maybe then he will feel the real stakes,” Kavanaugh said.

Chester has said that details of the hybrid test will still need to be worked out, including its costs and how much it would draw from the PARCC exam.

Both opponents and proponents of PARCC said Monday they wanted to know more about what the test would look like.

Stand for Children Executive Director Jason Williams told the board that a new hybrid test should be based primarily on PARCC, saying the fiscally responsible decision would be to capitalize on the test Massachusetts had already worked to develop.

“The political compromise inherent in the commissioner’s recommendation does not provide the necessary level of explicitness for our parents and students,” Williams said. “Instead, it provides more uncertainty.”

Lindsay Sobel, Massachusetts executive director of the teacher leadership group Teach Plus, said the teachers she works with are concerned that Massachusetts could “open itself up to redirecting scarce dollars from their classrooms to the creation of an unnecessary new test.” She called for the board to adopt PARCC, or a new assessment heavily based on it.

Teachers who spoke during the meeting were divided on whether Massachusetts should adopt PARCC or a PARCC-like exam, with some joining the call for a moratorium. Several teachers from the Excel Academy Charter Schools in East Boston and Chelsea said that their network’s move to PARCC had helped them improve their instruction.

“Abandoning the movement midstream is the wrong move,” said Becca Moskowitz, a seventh-grade teacher and head of the English department at Excel. “Let’s commit to the standards and see this through, either with PARCC or with MCAS 2.0.”

Boston parent Kenny Jervis said he didn’t want to see his children given a test that hasn’t yet been developed and proven.

“Just remember the board of Coca-Cola and New Coke,” Jervis said. “Introducing something new to the system that doesn’t work, you don’t want to be the board that does that … We don’t send our children to school to be guinea pigs.”

Another provision of Chester’s recommendation that drew concern from commenters was his plan for both MCAS and PARCC to be administered in the spring. Schools that gave PARCC this year would be required to administer it again, while those that administered MCAS could either give the same test or switch to PARCC.

Speakers from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, whose members prefer the PARCC exam, said continuing to give two exams would ultimately hurt the state by providing another year of two disparate sets of result data.

“If the move is to customize PARCC into the future and include Massachusetts-generated PARCC items, that can be done without postponing the implementation for PARCC this year for all schools,” alliance board member Joe Esposito said.

Missy Costello, the instruction technology specialist for Newton Public Schools, said that young students there struggled to use laptop trackpads in order to scroll through the test material when PARCC exams were given in the spring.

“When you’re thinking of actually giving the PARCC next year while you’re waiting for the MCAS 2.0, why would you traumatize children for a second year?” Costello asked again.

Other districts had problems updating their technology for the exam, students, teachers and administrators told the board. Under Chester’s recommendation, state tests will be computer-based by 2019.

In Bedford, students taking PARCC on a computer repeatedly lost work on the test because of glitches, Superintendent Jon Sills said.

Sills asked that test results not be considered for schools’ accountability rankings while the test is developed and schools address their technology needs. Chester has committed to “hold harmless” in accountability rankings schools that give PARCC during the ongoing pilot but has not suggested any further grace period.

The board is scheduled to vote on Chester’s testing recommendation Tuesday, after discussing assessments, in a meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m.