The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to try out a new standardized testing system that aims to replace the MCAS in English and math in two years.
Much of the new testing would be done online, and students would take the same tests as their peers in many other states. By contrast, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests are administered only in Massachusetts in paper booklets.
“This is a big step for Massachusetts,” said Mitchell Chester, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education. “Our MCAS is 15 years old now, and we have not kept up with new developments and technology in testing.”
The new tests are called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and were created by a consortium of states that is chaired by Chester.
“The PARCC is designed to bring us into the next generation of testing,” Chester said. “It asks students to apply what they know, instead of tell us what they know.”
Under the proposal the board will take up Tuesday, about 1,200 schools statewide would try out the new tests next spring, and then a larger trial run would take place in spring 2015, with about half the schools in the state participating.
A separate vote would be necessary in two years to officially replace the MCAS English and math tests with the new benchmark. Chester said he would only recommend adoption of the new tests if they are as rigorous or more rigorous than the MCAS.
The state would continue to use the MCAS to test students in science.
The potential switch has created anxiety among many school superintendents. One chief concern is how a new testing system would affect the state’s ability to judge school performance, which is currently based largely on the MCAS. Would some schools end up looking better and others worse?
“I think a lot of our superintendents have reached a comfort level with MCAS and understand the expectations and alignment” to the state’s academic standards, said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Another issue raised by superintendents, other educators, and even some state board members centers on whether schools are technologically prepared to test dozens of students online simultaneously.
Although the partnership offers a paper-and-pencil option, Scott said “there are indications that there are performance advantages for those who take tests electronically.”
The Education Department has been surveying districts for several months on the number and kinds of computers and tablets available in schools as well as broadband access.
Initial results seem to indicate that “at least half our schools are ready,” said Chester, but he added “the data are incomplete.”