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Boston lags behind Mass. schools in PARCC scores

Boston performed well below the statewide average on a test that could replace the MCAS as the new assessment standard, according to results released Tuesday, just one week before a long-anticipated vote on whether to adopt the alternative exam.

Only 34 percent of Boston third- through eighth-grade students met or exceeded expectations in math, and just 39 percent met or exceeded English expectations on the PARCC test. Statewide, 52 percent reached that bar in math and 60 percent in English.

Boston fared better in comparison with Massachusetts’ two next largest cities.

Worcester was two percentage points ahead of Boston in meeting or exceeding expectations in English, but Boston bested Worcester by 5 percentage points in math. Boston came out 8 percentage points ahead of Springfield in English and 9 points ahead in math.

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“PARCC is challenging our students to use their complex thinking and reasoning skills, and that’s a good thing,” Michael O’Neill, chairman of the Boston School Committee, said in a statement.

Massachusetts districts had a choice this spring of administering either the MCAS or the PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam — as the state completed a two-year trial of the new test.

About 54 percent of districts chose the PARCC for third through eighth grade; because the 10th-grade MCAS is a graduation requirement, most high schools did not offer the PARCC.

Statewide, fewer students’ scores met the standards for proficiency on the PARCC than on the MCAS. Education officials say the discrepancy reflects the higher expectations of the PARCC exam, which is aligned with national Common Core standards.

The state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, Mitchell D. Chester, is expected to make his recommendation this week to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as the panel prepares to vote on which test to use.

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Last month, Chester surprised many observers of the ongoing testing debate by suggesting that rather than switching to the PARCC or retaining the MCAS, the state could pursue a third option: developing an MCAS 2.0 that would combine elements of both tests.

Questions on the PARCC delve into how students arrived at their answers and require more critical thinking skills than the MCAS, according to state officials.

The PARCC scores for individual school districts and schools released Tuesday may give some Boston parents pause.

Citywide math results declined steadily by grade level, with 37 percent of third-graders meeting or exceeding expectations but only 24 percent falling in that range by eighth grade.

In English, results fluctuated. Between third and fourth grades, scores leapt from 33 percent to 41 percent meeting or exceeding expectations. But results declined to 39 percent in fifth and sixth grades, rose to 42 percent in seventh, and slipped to 41 percent in eighth.

Results also varied by students’ background. Sixty-eight percent of Boston’s Asian students and 65 percent of white students met or exceeded expectations, while only 29 percent of black students and 32 percent of Hispanic or Latino students reached that bar.

But several Boston schools showed strong year-over-year improvement in the scores of individual students, including those at Mildred Avenue K-8 School, Rafael Hernández K-8 School, Nathan Hale Elementary School, and Samuel Adams Elementary School.

Tommy Chang, Boston’s schools superintendent, said tests that match the rigor of the Common Core standards help prepare students for “college, career, and life.”

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“Today’s results show that BPS schools with the strongest PARCC scores are the ones that have engaged their students in cognitively demanding tasks,” Chang said in a statement.

Individual student scores on the PARCC will be released to families in late November or early December, state officials said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.