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Noonan: PARCC Exam - Teaching Abilities, Not How to Fill in Bubbles

Monday, March 31, 2014

 

Every parent wants their child to succeed in life. Part of that success comes from doing well in school. So, it is understandable that families expect to know whether their child is on track to graduate from high school ready for whatever their future may hold. Soon, they may be able to get a more honest and accurate answer than ever before.

It’s been 17 years since Massachusetts public school students first took the MCAS exam, which was intended to be a minimum measure, or floor, for student proficiency. Since then, it has become a ceiling in too many schools and districts. And, in a rapidly changing, competitive global economy and society, that bar is too low.

Although we lead the nation in student performance on standardized tests, recent polls show that Bay State employers and educators agree we are spending too much time measuring the wrong things. Almost 40% of Massachusetts high school graduates who enroll in our state colleges and universities (the number rises to 65% in community colleges) have to take at least one remedial course before earning college credit. This dramatically reduces their likelihood of earning their certificate or degree. Similarly, employers report difficulty finding workers with qualifications that match job requirements. Emphasizing the need to be able to learn new skills over a lifetime and adapt to innovations in the future, employers are concerned about the divide between what our schools are teaching and what students need to be lifelong learners able to adapt to changes in society and the workplace.

The good news is that four years ago, our schools, which have regularly implemented revised standards over the past twenty years, shifted to college and career-ready benchmarks that are better aligned with what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in higher education and tomorrow’s job market. Now, new high-quality assessments are needed to tell us whether students are meeting these standards. MCAS isn’t designed to do that.

Massachusetts has been leading a voluntary consortium of other states to develop these tests as part of the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness, known as PARCC. Instead of testing rote memorization, the PARCC exam, using new technology and scientific evidence about effective testing, will measure whether students can actually apply their knowledge to solve real world problems and demonstrate how they developed their solution. With PARCC, it’s about teaching abilities, teaching past the test, not how to fill in bubbles.

In the coming weeks, Massachusetts schools and students will be “field testing” PARCC. Participating in the field test gives us the chance to find out if PARCC is what we need or whether we must pursue an alternative. The test drive of PARCC gives students and teachers a chance to “test the test” and see different types of questions long before their answers count. And, since PARCC will be taken by most students on tablets or computers, one-size fits all multiple choice questions can be replaced with simulations and interactive questions that give teachers real-time information about what a student has learned and what instruction they need.

Feedback from students and teachers about the field test will be discussed and debated, and it will be another year and a half before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on whether or not PARCC is the right way to assess students’ progress in school. Education leaders at the state and local levels have made PARCC materials readily available and held community meetings so that parents and citizens can get accurate information about what is happening in their community.

For over 20 years, we in Massachusetts have been committed to high standards and to holding our schools and students accountable for meeting these. But we have never really made sure these were indicators of readiness for the demands of college and careers. MCAS has not been able to tell parents if their child is on track in time to provide the direction and support they need to catch up.

The next generation of assessment, aligned to the standards, is designed to answer the question parents care about most – are our children on track to meet their educational goals and lead productive, fulfilled lives.

{image_2}Linda Noonan has been the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education since 2005.

 

Related Slideshow: Which Central MA School Districts Spend the Most Per Pupil?

Based on 2012 data from the Massachusetts Department of Education, these are the 25 Central MA school districts--ranked lowest to highest--that spend the most per pupil.

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25.

Quabbin Regional School District

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 2,830.7

Total Expenditures: $34,378,737.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,145.00

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24.

Auburn Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 2,426.9

Total Expenditures: $29,634,526.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,211.00

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23.

Leominster Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 6,623.8

Total Expenditures: $81,029,058.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,233.00

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22.

Milford Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 4354.3

Total Expenditures: $53,488,678.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,284.00

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21.

Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 2,124.9

Total Expenditures: $26,114,366.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,290.00

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20.

North Brookfield Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 695.1

Total Expenditures: $8,556,304.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,295.00

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19.

West Boylston Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1098.1

Total Expenditures: $13,598,549.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,384.00

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18.

Fitchburg Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 5,607.9

Total Expenditures: $71,113,538.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,681.00

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17.

Nashoba Regional School District

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 2,418.5

Total Expenditures: $31,184,543.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,894.00

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16.

Winchendon Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,635.4

Total Expenditures: $20,829,556.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,737.00

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15.

Webster Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,989.6

Total Expenditures: $25,442,291.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,786.00

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14.

Southbridge Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 2,418.5

Total Expenditures: $31,184,543.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,894.00

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13.

Tantasqua Public Schools

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,786.8

Total Expenditures: $23,201,699.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $12,985.00

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12.

Hudson Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 3,079.9

Total Expenditures: $40,944,241.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,294.00

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11.

Millbury Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,814.9

Total Expenditures: $24,400,189.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,444.00

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10.

Worcester Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 27,227.2

Total Expenditures: $367,267,344.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,489.00

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9.

Athol-Royalston Regional School District

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,883.4

Total Expenditures: $25,763,586.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,679.00

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8.

Ralph C Mahar Regional School District

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 938.0

Total Expenditures: $12,862,159.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,712.00

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7.

Northborough-Southborough Regional School District

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,442.0

Total Expenditures: $20,043,904.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,900.00

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6.

Harvard Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,311.0

Total Expenditures: $18,333,578.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $13,984.00

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5.

Westborough Public Schools

District Type: Local School

Avg. Pupil Membership: 3572.1

Total Expenditures: $51,956,543.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $14,545.00

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4.

Berlin-Boylston Public Schools

District Type: Regional Academic

Avg. Pupil Membership: 505.8

Total Expenditures: $7,562,672.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $14,952.00

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3.

Southern Worcester County Regional Vocational 

District Type: Regional Vocational Technical 

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,080.7

Total Expenditures: $18,335,551.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $16,966.00

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2.

Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational School District

District Type: Regional Vocational Technical 

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,158.0

Total Expenditures: $19,838,191.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $17,131.00

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1.

Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical

District Type: Regional Vocational Technical

Avg. Pupil Membership: 1,432.5

Total Expenditures: $24,755,451.00

Expenditures Per Pupil: $17,281.00

 
 

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