East Greenwich will not require that students take the new PARCC standardized test but officials expressed concern Tuesday over the potential “hit” East Greenwich High School could take if too many students opted out.
“You could theoretically have a ‘commended’ school that moves into ‘warning’ status simply because a certain percentage of its students opted out,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark at the School Committee meeting Tuesday night at Cole. She was referring to state Department of Education school ratings.
PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a test adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia that was designed to be taken on computer but will mix computer and paper at least initially, as districts including East Greenwich put in place the requisite number of computers. It replaces the NECAP tests and students at every grade level will take them during the second semester this year.
Confusion arose last week when state education officials said while they expect students to take the PARCC, they are not required by law to do so. At the same time, however, they said there was no formal “opt-out” provision. One official referred to the taking of standardized tests as part of a social contract between families and schools, according to the Providence Journal.
“RIDE’s clarification was, yes, there’s local autonomy,” said Mark, “but for a local school district to move ahead on [requiring students to take the test], in advance of any kind of statewide requirement, would not be something that I would think most school districts would want to do.”
“My recommendation is to participate in the first go of the test, to do our absolute best, as I know we will,” said EG Supt. Victor Mercurio. “And then see where the chips fall, as it relates to the test. And then start to make some thoughtful decisions about [how to use the test.]”
Some students participated in the pilot PARCC last year. Results were not returned to East Greenwich, but were instead used to inform the test developers.
“Some of it went very well, some of it was a bit of a frustration,” said Mercurio. “It will not be completely new to the students.”
School Committeeman David Osborne spoke in defense of the test, difficulty and all.
“Now we have, in theory, a set of assessments that are actually aligned to the standards that we’re trying to implement in our schools,” he said. “So, when you heard complaints in the past of teachers saying, ‘Oh, we have to stop what we’re doing to prepare kids and basically test them to the test,’ now we actually have a test that we want to teach to, because we’re actually testing whether we are doing as good a job as we hope teaching high standards.”
Osborne, an education consultant, said he’s seen other districts across the country go through transitions like the one East Greenwich is about to go through with PARCC.
“The first couple of years will be really, really difficult. I’ll tell you right now, our proficiency numbers are going to take a big hit. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You are testing much more rigorous curriculum, much more rigorous standards and our scores will go down. …. They will go down the first year, they will stay down probably the second year also. It’s year three where everybody starts to really click in. We want to ride this out. We will learn a ton over next two years, I guarantee you. It will inform instruction, but it will be bumpy along the way, but we shouldn’t lose heart.”
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