Thursday, October 22, 2015

PARCC OR MCAS?

Next month, the Board of Education will decide on which student assessment system Massachusetts will use:  MCAS, the standardized tests in ELA, Math, and Science that have been in place since Education Reform in 1993, or the newer PARCC test, developed collaboratively by educational leaders from multiple states to measure students’ progress in meeting the Common Core standards.

I am often asked my opinion on which assessment I would choose.  My answer is this: I will back the assessment that 1) emphasizes the development of higher order thinking skills, application of knowledge to new situations, reasoning in Math, and strong writing skills across all content areas; 2) provides districts, schools, teachers, and families with valuable information to continuously improve student learning; 3) uses 21st century technology (because that is what are students are using and will need in the future); 4) minimizes interruption to daily instruction as much as is possible; and 5) is tightly aligned with the standards taught in Massachusetts schools.

Right now, the assessment that best meets these criteria is PARCC.  The Commissioner of Education announced yesterday that he is interested in a plan to develop an MCAS 2.0 – a “next generation” MCAS, if you will – one that will live up to the quality of the PARCC test, but provide some autonomy to Massachusetts to shape our own assessment. If they are successful in doing so, I am fine with this course of action.  Again, it is the criteria I cite in the previous paragraph that I believe to be of critical importance, not the owner of the test design.  The Common Core State Standards provide the rigor for critical thinking, reasoning, and application; good instruction will prepare our students for any quality assessment that is tightly aligned with these standards.

In 2014-15, districts were allowed to choose whether to administer MCAS or PARCC in grades 3-8, with an option to pilot PARCC in grades 9-11.  The Wakefield Public Schools chose to implement PARCC in all of these grades except for grade 10, as districts continue to be required to implement MCAS as a graduation requirement. In a year in which districts were held “harmless”, WPS students (except grade 9 ELA) took the PARCC tests online to give students and teachers the opportunity to experience the academic and technology infrastructure challenges.  Overall, the schools reported a relatively smooth testing experience and pride in our students’ efforts.


As the Board of Education nears their decision, their focus should remain on selecting (or developing) a statewide assessment system that is minimally intrusive to instructional time and one that provides us with the imperative, quality data we need to continuously improve teaching and learning in our schools.

Friday, September 18, 2015

College, Career...AND Community

The term “college and career readiness” is ubiquitous in K-12 education today. Our new state standards in Math, English Language Arts, and Science, Technology, and Engineering were explicitly developed with the end goal in mind. I am pleased with the elevated standards across all disciplines, particularly because they foster critical thinking, problem solving, application and higher order thinking skills that will surely prepare students for the next steps in their lives.

Yet I have often felt that the term “college and career” is missing a critical piece.  This piece is curriculum that is necessary for our students, presented in the formal and informal curriculum delivered in the Wakefield Public Schools on a regular basis.  This is the curriculum that guides relational and character development to help our students, and eventually our graduates, become contributing, successful members of their community.

This past Wednesday, a Black Hawk military helicopter landed at Wakefield Memorial High School on a beautiful September morning before the entire student body, staff, and honored guests.  Two Medal of Honor recipients (two of only 72 living Medal recipients in the U.S., visiting only seven Massachusetts high schools on this day) disembarked and were accompanied to the WMHS Field House for a memorable assembly. 

The curriculum that followed is not offered in our textbooks: it was intimate time spent listening to veterans who were willing to humbly share their stories. These are lessons rich in meaning, ones that point not to historical events but to the development of one’s character.  As a recipient of the highest award for valor, one speaker shared this reflection: "Courage”, he said, “is a conscious decision, moment by moment, to do the right thing”.  He paused. “And you will know in your heart what it is."
If this isn’t the definition of essential curriculum, I’m not sure what is.


So as we articulate our vision for the successful preparation of our students upon graduation from the Wakefield Public Schools, we need to extend our thinking from “college and career”, to “college, career and community”.