AYER/SHIRLEY -- The Ayer-Shirley Regional School District will begin field-testing the new multi-state education assessments, known as PARCC, this spring.

District Superintendent Carl Mock made the announcement at the Dec. 3 School Committee meeting.

In a review of the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) "PARCC Assessment Field Test Update," Mock said the gradual implementation of the new assessments is part of DESE's two-year plan for transitioning between the MCAS, or Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, and the new K-12 test, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of 18 states plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands that are working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math, aimed at preparing students for college and careers.

PARCC received a $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment competition to support the development and design of the new assessment system.

The new standards were written under the direction of two nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

All CCSS materials are copyrighted by the Penguin Group, a subsidiary of the education company Pearson, which, according to its website, also offers Core lesson plans and materials.

Although 45 states adopted the complete CCSS, a number of states, including Indiana, Louisiana and Florida, are delaying or dropping out of the new federal education standards. Massachusetts opted simply to delay the adoption of the new assessments before completely dropping the MCAS.

The Timetable

After having heard from educators and administrators across the state, Mass. Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester recommended a "two-year test drive" for PARCC that will include some overlap between the MCAS and the new assessment.

Approximately 15 percent of Massachusetts students in grades 3-11 will be randomly selected by grade or classroom to take portions of the English Language Arts (ELA) or math PARCC.

The testing windows are March 24 through April 11 for the performance-based assessment in ELA and math, and May 5 through June 6 for the end-of-the-year assessment in ELA and math. Students in Grade 10 will be selected for the end-of-year test only.

In his presentation to the School Committee, Mock said three Ayer Shirley ninth-grade classes and three Algebra II classes will be taking the end-of-year PARCC this spring.

At Lura A. White Elementary School, the school's two sections of Grade 4 will take the paper-and-pencil math end-of-year, and at Page Hilltop Elementary School, two of the five third-grade classes will take the online performance-based assessment in March.

Two levels at the middle school, grades 6 and 7, were identified to split in half to take the MCAS or PARCC, but Mock said he negotiated the district out of it because he does not think it is wise "to do part and part."

Opting Out

"Superintendents are permitted to decide if they will double-test both the PARCC and MCAS, or if those students for that grade and subject will be exempted from the MCAS," Mock noted.

The exemptions from the MCAS are only for grades 3-8 participating in the PARCC performance-based assessment field tests, which would affect only the PHT students. Mock said because the schedules for the PARCC tests for ELA and math overlap with the MCAS, "we would be asking grade three in March and May to do MCAS and the PARCC."

Mock said ASRSD is leaning toward opting out of double testing the PHT students who will be taking the PARCC performance-based ELA assessment.

"It would seem unfair" to do otherwise, he said.