LINCOLN – The local public schools are about to make the shift from one statewide student assessment system, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), to its replacement and will be giving students a first look at the change this spring.
The initial round of testing under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is being done on a practice basis in Rhode Island school districts and will be used as a database for the state Department of Education to adjust the testing process before it becomes the new assessment of student achievement.
Caroline Frey, the Lincoln school district’s director of curriculum, assessment and professional development, described the start up program as a “field test” of the new assessment process before it fully replaces NECAP.
“This year and next year the high school will still be linked to NECAP and not PARCC,” she explained. Partial proficiency on NECAP testing is being used as a requirement for graduation for the first time this year and will also be used as the requirement for members of the junior class, according to Frey.
The PARCC tests will be used for the grades 3-8 initially and then all grades to grade 11 once the transition has been completed, according to Frey.
One of the biggest advantages for the district in the new testing process will be the ability to get student data on progress between every grade level between grades 3 to 11. “You don’t have a gap in grade years, so we will have a better record of how students perform all the way through,” Frey said.
The district’s results from 2013 NECAP testing showed 86 percent of local students to be proficient in reading, up four percentage points from the previous year. The math testing results for 2013 showed 69 percent of Lincoln students to be proficient, up a percentage point from the previous year.
The new testing process is viewed as a modified approach to assessing students under a testing process that will be held twice during the year and also provide the district its results in the same year, according to Frey.
All of state’s school districts are taking on some form of a trial test this spring and some be trying the new online, computer-based assessment process while others will employ a paper-based trial to sample student responses to the types of questions they will face under the new assessment process.
“Is it different, absolutely,” Frey said. “Is it more rigorous, yes, and it will take us a couple of years to catch up,” she said.
Frey said she has every confidence that local students “will do very well on the assessments,” but the newness of the testing could require state educators to look at the related standards and adjustment them if necessary.
The testing to be conducted in Lincoln’s six schools-- the four elementary schools, the middle school and the high school-- this spring will not provide the district itself with any test results but the collected information will be used by the state to refine the new testing system, Frey said. The testing will be conducted in two phases, performance based assessments in April, and then the yearly overall assessment near the end of the school year in May.
The new system will have students taught to the curriculum on which the tests are based in the same year they are being assessed on the material, according to Frey. “What happened with NECAP was that the testing was always on the prior year of instruction,” Frey noted. “This is a far better system,” she said.
School Superintendent Georgia Fortunato has sent home a letter to parents explaining the changes in the school department’s student assessment system and the initial trial process it will begin with this spring.
“Rhode Island educators are helping to develop next-generation tests in math, reading, and writing that are of exceptional quality and will measure students’ content knowledge and key skills, such as their ability to think critically, solve problems and use information from what they read to write well-developed essays,” Fortunato said.
The start-up process will also allow for further refinement of the assessments before they are used as the NECAP replacement in 2014 and 2015, she noted.
“The practice run provides an opportunity to ‘test the test’ to see how well it works and whether we need to make any adjustments,” she said.
The new test is aligned with the Common Core State Standards that were adopted by the state back in 2010 and are “designed to prepare students for success in college and careers,” she said.
“The practice run will help us to make sure the PARCC assessments are as good as they can be,” Fortunato said.
More information on the PARCC program can be found by visiting www.ride.ri.gov/PARCC , or by speaking with a student’s teacher or principal, Fortunato said.