Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

High Stakes Testing Letter to MA Board of Education from School Committee

Last Tuesday night, September 15, the Committee voted to approve the following letter to the Board of Education re: high stakes testing.
In November 2013, the Massachusetts Board of Education agreed to a two-year trial of the PARCC assessments before a final determination would be made whether to make PARCC a mandated state assessment.

As the time for a final decision draws near, the Melrose School Committee respectfully urges the Massachusetts Board of Education to enter into a moratorium on PARCC testing until the following takes place:

            1)         School districts have more time to work with Massachusetts State Frameworks for English and mathematics
            2)        State funding is available to build the capacity around technology that PARCC requires    
            3)        PARCC is evaluated to determine its true validity and reliability as an assessment system

School districts want to do the best for their students. Unless the preceding issues of timing, funding and evaluation are addressed, school districts should be able to opt out of PARCC without penalty.

More time needed to incorporate frameworks
With relatively new Massachusetts State Frameworks in place for English and mathematics, teachers need more time to make important changes to their classroom practice so that their instruction and curriculum align with the standards. When the new Massachusetts State Frameworks for science are finally released, additional time will be required once again to incorporate those standards into the curriculum.

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents concurs that teachers must have sufficient time to make the necessary instructional changes to reflect the new frameworks. Until that happens, PARCC assessments will fail to authentically measure the required student learning and skills outlined in the Massachusetts State Frameworks.

More funding needed to build technology capacity
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s own data reveals that technology gaps are common across many public schools in Massachusetts. According DESE’s Office of Digital Learning 2013-2014 Annual Report, a survey of 212 school districts, found that only:

                      64% of school districts in Massachusetts have the necessary infrastructure/bandwidth for next generation learning.
                      41% have the recommended devices for the same standard of learning.

As the data shows, technical requirements still continue to be a substantial stumbling block for full adoption of PARCC for many Massachusetts school districts that need more time and more funding to build capacity around technology.

Although school districts received guidance in the form of meetings, presentations and discussions, no substantial funding has been offered to help ease the financial burden of meeting PARCC's technical requirements for test-taking devices and bandwidth.

School districts that have participated in PARCC testing have witnessed the impact it has had on their budgets. With no technology grants earmarked in FY16 state budget to support PARCC testing, school districts will likely underfund critical items in their annual budgets in order to spend the money needed to make online testing possible.

Melrose Technology Plan sets five-year goals
A PARCC field test site, Melrose Public Schools requested that two of its five elementary schools be excluded from the trials because of inadequate devices and bandwidth. For the other schools in the district that did participate, extraordinary efforts were made to comply with all technical requirements.

Melrose Public Schools has struggled to provide the funding necessary to make technology a vital part of its teaching and learning environment. In 2015, Melrose Public Schools launched its Technology Planning Committee—made up of more than 25 educators, technology experts and community members —to provide strategic direction and action steps related to how instructional technology will be implemented in the schools.

The resulting Five-Year Strategic Instructional Technology Plan created a blueprint for upgrading wireless infrastructure, increasing funding for software subscription licensing and hiring more instructional technology staff to serve all the district’s schools. The city of Melrose capital fund will provide funding for the technology improvements but in increments over five years. The overall effect may be that Melrose Public Schools will still likely fall short in meeting PARCC’s stringent technology standards.

In DESE’s report titled Beyond PARCC: The Next Generation, districts are encouraged to leverage PARCC planning as an opportunity to expand access to digital tools to drive more instructional outcomes in every classroom. But the reality is that technology budgets are often underfunded and must be spent on the most basic technology needs. PARCC exacerbates an already dire budgeting problem.

More evaluation needed for PARCC
Changing Massachusetts State Frameworks and gaps in technology raise doubts about whether PARCC is truly an accurate measure of student achievement. Parents and educators alike are asking whether students are subjected to excessive testing under the current system and questioning how much testing is actually needed to determine individual student progress. Although the PARCC governing board voted in May to reduce overall testing time for students, more evaluation is still needed to shed light on PARCC’s validity and reliability as a tool for assessment.

Melrose Public Schools has worked hard to raise the academic standards for its students and has diligently built a local system of assessment, data collection and data analysis based on curriculum and instruction that is aligned with the Massachusetts State Frameworks. We believe the practices we have in place adequately reflect the state standards that are required and the outcomes that are expected.

We recognize the value of standardized student assessments to improve teaching and learning. At the same time, we understand that excessive testing takes away from valuable classroom time that can be spent on teaching and learning. We know well the financial constraints of running a school district and object to mandates that do not offer financial relief.

Because of these concerns, the Melrose School Committee recommends that the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to enter into a moratorium on PARCC testing until issues of timing, funding and evaluation can be adequately resolved.