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Tie vote defeats plea for early online-testing decision

School Committee logo, Jan. 23, 2013

Committee backs letter protesting unfunded mandates

In a deadlocked vote illustrating their uncertainty about moving quickly toward new online testing, the School Committee on Thursday, June 26, hesitated to follow the administration's recommendation to meet a state deadline.

After having one of the more searching board conversations in recent years, the committee voted, 3-3, with member Jud Pierce absent, on a motion to agree by June 30 to test students using PARCC in the eight through ninth grades.

Three backed starting now with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which had trial runs in Arlington this spring. Three did not.

Voting yes were Jeff Thielman, Paul Schlichtman and Cindy Starks. Voting no were Bill Hayner, Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Jennifer Susse. Pierce had a prior commitment and could not be present. At the June 12 meeting, he was leaning toward delay.

In a related matter, the committee voted unanimously to endorse a letter to be sent to the state Education Department as well as the state association of school committees decrying the push or unfunded mandates, including testing. Starks introduced the motion for the letter.

Before the 80-minute discussion about PARCC vs. MCAS, an educator who lives in Arlington and the head of the town teachers' union praised the respectful tenor and in-depth content underlying the debate. The full statements of each is online here and here

Resuts of survey of teachers

Linda Hanson, union president, presented the results of a survey if teachers. It shows that of 110 responses (28 percent teaching staff) 63 percent want to continue the regular MCAS schedule next year, and 38 percent wants some combination of PARCC and MCAS.

Allison-Ampe introduced the motion based on discussion at the June 23 curriculum subcommittee meeting. She made clear that subcommittee members had taken no position as a group. The motion was to consider adopting the recommendation by Superintendent Kathleen Bodie to start PARCC testing for grades three through eight in the 2014-15 school year.

Jennifer Susse said she is "struggling" about what to do and said acting now or waiting sums up the issue that would decide how she expects to vote.

Her struggle became clearer later in the discussion when she said was changing her mind and favored waiting until October. (School districts must decide to use PARCC by Oct. 1, but if they wait, they cannot be assured of being included in online testing.)

Comments for and against

Cindy Starks, who much earlier expressed doubts about the new test and then two weeks ago indicated her thinking had softened, said she was "leaning toward PARCC."

She said she now thinks Arlington has the resources to "pull it off." She reflected continued doubt by saying the schools could benefit by having "a year to breathe."

Paul Schlichtman, who administers standard student tests as part of his day job in Lowell, offered the strongest pitch for moving forward. After admitting the downsides, he called Bodie's recommendation "well thought out" and those who make assurances about resources should be "taken at their word." He called it "important to move forward."

Allison-Ampe expressed the most caution and made clear she would vote no. "Looking at this as a parent," she said many parents remain in the dark about PARCC and are concerned about their children's readiness to take the test. She called for making sure students became more proficient in keyboarding as well as practice computer tests in the coming year.

"This is one of the most thoughtful conversations we have had in a long, long time," Thielman said. "Whatever we vote tonight, our district will be fine."

He said he was leaning toward voting yes, because the Arlington public schools have already made "some nice moves" toward aligning its curriculum with the state Common Core. He suggested delaying a vote until September, to give the public a better a chance to learn more. His alternative motion, made later in the meeting, was not acted on in the light of the tied main vote.

Committee Chairman Hayner said, "We have done well by waiting."

Administrators comment

After comment from all members, Bodie gently urged support for the motion. She called testing "a reality if educational systems throughout the world" and that online testing is expected to become increasingly accepted.

She noted that members of her administrative Cabinet, including principal, favored proceeding with PARCC by a 2-to-1 margin.

Assistant Administrator Laura Chesson said: "We believe in formative assessments" and that PARCC will be among those Arlington uses.

June 17: Facing state deadline, School committee grapples with new testing direction

This story was published Thursday, June 26, 2014, and updated June 27.

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