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New PARCC exams expected to replace MSA exams during 2014-15 school year in Washington Co.

July 28, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
By Chad Trovinger

In past math assessment tests, Washington County Public Schools fourth-graders might have been asked to determine the area of a desktop, given its length and width.

New assessment tests coming in 2014-15 might ask fourth-graders to determine perimeter and area, and to apply reasoning — to solve one math problem.

Maryland and Pennsylvania are among a consortium of 21 states and the District of Columbia working to develop new assessment tests, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams, so they can measure how well students are learning the new curriculum, according to the consortium’s website at www.parcconline.org.

Washington County Public Schools has been phasing the more rigorous Common Core State Standard learning objectives into some classes for at least two years. The new curriculum isn’t fully phased-in yet, as teachers still are creating and adding activities to help students learn the new objectives, school system officials said.

The PARCC exams are expected to replace the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) exams and some High School Assessment (HSA) tests during the 2014-15 school year, said Rick Akers, the school system’s director of secondary education and student services.

In addition to being asked to solve multistep math problems, starting in elementary school, and to compare passages of texts, students will see more complex vocabulary in problems that — in addition to testing their math or reading comprehension skills — might focus on science or history subjects, according to local educators and prototype PARCC problems.

In pointing out the complexity of the text or vocabulary in some prototype PARCC problems during a May 7 school board meeting, Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox told board members that “not only are we expecting more of kids. We are, right now as a school system, struggling, I think, to a degree with this noncomplex text. So we absolutely have to ratchet up our effort in a meaningful way or we will have a serious, serious score drop. Because our kids will not be able to demonstrate that which they’ve not been taught.”


‘A score drop’

Maryland public school students in third through eighth grades will continue to take MSA tests, while high school students take HSA tests, this school year.

The results of last year’s MSA tests were released by the state earlier this week. The statewide results show drops in the percentage of elementary students who were at least proficient in math — from 87.7 percent in 2012 to 83.9 percent in 2013; the percentage of middle school students proficient in math — from 76.2 percent to 72.2 percent; and the percentage of elementary students proficient in reading — from 88.2 percent to 86.4 percent, according to a Maryland State Department of Education news release.

The percentage of middle school students proficient in reading improved from 82.1 percent to 83.4 percent.

Wilcox said local education officials were expecting a “small score drop” because the assessment test students took last year hasn’t been updated for the new Common Core standards.

And that’s what local school system officials saw when MSA data came out, Wilcox said, “a score drop.”

The percentage of local public elementary school students who scored at least at the proficient level in math decreased from 88.1 percent in 2012 to 83.8 percent in 2013, according to the school system and data at www.mdreportcard.org.

The percentage of middle school students who scored at least proficient in math decreased from 84.9 percent to 81.8 percent.

The county also had similar trends to the state average when it came to reading proficiency, as the percentage of local middle school students who were proficient in reading improved from 85.2 percent to 86.5 percent, while the percentage of elementary students proficient in reading decreased from 87 percent to 82.7 percent.

The county and state percentages do not include students with significant cognitive disabilities who took alternate MSA tests, local and state officials said.

“I don’t think it is alarming, but it certainly has me on edge as a superintendent because we don’t want that trend to continue,” Wilcox said when the data was released publicly.

Maryland School Assessment results, grade-by-grade for each school, were released by the state Tuesday. However, the proficiency goals for each school are not expected to be released until at least August, Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said.

In the past, the goals and results were released at the same time.


New tests coming

Washington County Public Schools elementary and middle school students will take the MSAs again in March and April, as the new PARCC tests don’t kick in until the 2014-15 school year.

While the actual amount of time students spend taking the new assessment tests is expected to be approximately the same as with the old assessment tests, the PARCC exams will be given during two different periods during the school year, school system officials said.

The first set of tests, called performance-based assessments, will be given to students about 75 percent of their way through their English and math courses, or around February or March, said Kara Reed, the school system’s math supervisor.

The second set of exams, the end-of-year assessments, will be given to students when they are about 90 percent of the way through their courses, Reed said. Those exams are expected to be given around May, she said.

Wilcox said school system officials still don’t know exactly what the new assessments will look like.

School system officials have shown some prototype problems during Board of Education meetings over the past few months and plan to continue that at future board meetings.

In doing so, educators displayed a similar MSA problem, so the difference in complexity between MSA and PARCC problems is evident.

Wilcox said he doesn’t think it will be possible to compare MSA and PARCC scores in the future by saying a certain MSA score equates to a certain PARCC score.

In addition to replacing the MSAs, the state’s plan is for new high school PARCC assessment tests to start being phased in during the 2014-15 school year, Akers said.

During that same school year, PARCC English 9 and PARCC algebra I tests would be given, Akers said.

In the following school year, 2015-16, three more high school PARCC tests would be added — English 10, geometry and algebra II, Akers said.

Finally, the English 11 PARCC exam would begin being administered during the 2016-17 school year, he said.

HSAs previously tested students in English 10, algebra, biology and government, all of which students must pass to graduate.

Akers said high school students still will need to take the HSA biology and government tests.

The expectation is the PARCC English 10 and algebra I exams will replace the HSA English 10 and algebra exams that are now, by state law, graduation requirements, Akers said.

New science curriculum standards are coming in the next few years for elementary, middle and high school, so at some point, those assessment tests also could change, he said.

Students in fifth and eighth grades also take a Maryland School Assessment test for science, and will continue to do so until new science assessment tests are approved, said Sandy Graff, the school system’s science supervisor.

In June, the Maryland State Board of Education adopted Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten through 12th grade, according to a state education department news release. Full implementation of those standards is expected to be ready for the 2017-18 school year, the release states.


Testing resources

Students are meant to take the PARCC assessments on a computer so they can type answers, and in some cases, use the mouse to click and drag to solve problems.

Just like the periodic benchmark tests that Washington County students now take during the school year, the PARCC exams are touted to be adaptive, Wilcox said.

Two students sitting side by side might not be presented with the same problems, Wilcox said. As a student answers questions, the program will narrow in on the student’s abilities so it can provide an accurate prediction of the student’s skill level, he said.

More than a year ago, elementary school students began taking online benchmark tests, known as Measures of Academic Progress, to help them learn how to take tests online, Wilcox said.

“We’re working hard with all of our young kids on developing the keyboarding skills that are necessary so that it’s not their inability to type that’s graded as opposed to the quality of their thought,” Wilcox said.

The PARCC exams will be offered electronically and through paper-and-pencil tests for the first year, but the school system is moving aggressively to have the number of computers needed for students to take the tests online, Wilcox said.

That might mean the school system needs a larger testing window and will end up trucking some portable computer labs from school to school for testing, he said.

“I think that’s a good use of tax resources. So that’s probably what we’ll plan to do. We’re not going to have a one-to-one initiative in this district for testing,” Wilcox said about providing computers for testing.

“Initially, when we start to evaluate our success as a system (on the PARCC exams), we’re going to have to ... sort though all that. ... Was it the quality of instruction or was it our kids’ inability to access the technology in a meaningful way. We’re going to have to figure that out,” Wilcox said.

In addition to making sure the school system has enough computer resources, officials also are working to increase the collection of nonfiction resources because the Common Core State Standards require more nonfiction than fiction.

Wilcox said the school system is being smarter about its purchases going forward so it can add nonfiction resources and stay within its budget.

“There are about a thousand moving pieces to this thing,” Wilcox said.

School system officials haven’t seen an actual PARCC test yet, but have seen prototype problems.

One of the issues still to be decided is whether students will be able to use calculators for the math problems, educators said.


The challenge

The new curriculum standards on which students will be tested with the PARCC exams will have teachers instructing on fewer topics, but going more in-depth with those topics, educators have said.

For example, some math concepts will be taught a grade earlier than they were before, educators have said.

The school system already is striving to help youngsters who are behind catch up. Those efforts include holding a summer program, this year and last, for some elementary school children who were reading below grade level.

“The challenge is huge and the challenge is pronounced,” Wilcox said. “We have more kids today than ever before who are coming to school not prepared to read.

“It makes our job tougher, but you know what? We can’t shy away from that. That is our challenge. I don’t think for a moment that parents are taking their good kids and keeping them at home and only sending us their problem kids. They’re sending us the best they have. We’re going to accept those kids and we’re going to do the right thing by them.

“But it does make the challenge that we face that much more difficult.”

Wilcox said the challenge is to make sure the students are able to show and demonstrate their “true academic and intellectual abilities.”

“We do not want any kid in Washington County — who perhaps is developmentally delayed, or who is simply not at the same place at the same time as some of their like-minded peers — to be labeled as someone who is less-than because of that,” Wilcox said.

The bottom line, he said, is “at the end of the day, we here in Hagerstown have to be sure that we’re serving our kids well.”

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