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Eye On Education: PARCC vs. MCAS

BOSTON (CBS) - State education officials are about to decide on a key graduation requirement for students across the state. On November 17th, they will vote on whether to replace the MCAS after 18 years. Paula Ebben spoke with students who are already very familiar with the possible replacement to get a closer look at the alternative.

Like most 8th graders around the state, Burlington students are no strangers to testing. The difference at Marshall Simonds Middle School is that they've been testing the new PARCC exam for the past two years. Burlington's goal has been to work out the logistics of running a district-wide computer-based exam and to find any and all glitches. According to these tech-savvy kids there were plenty. "It was more difficult because there were a lot difficulties with typing," said Olivia. A lot of the students actually wanted to work out math problems the old fashioned-way, "I thought I'd rather do the MCAS because it's on paper," John told us.

And these are kids who work with computers every day. Each Burlington student has an iPad and the school has two computer labs. "The hurdles for a computer-based test have to do with basically some basic technology infrastructure and devices," said Burlington Superintendent Eric Conti. While that's not a problem in Burlington, it is a big hurdle at other schools. Out of 1800 schools around the state, 442 don't have the technology to administer a computer-based test. For some, that means access to the internet, for others it means having enough computers or tablets for all of the students. The cost of bringing these schools up to speed could be as much as $15 million.

We asked an 8th grade math class to vote on PARCC vs MCAS. All of the students, except for one, were in favor of MCAS. But it won't be those young experts making the call. Instead it will be the Board of Education voting on "three" possible options.

Option #1: Switch to PARCC. PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It is being developed by a national committee using millions of dollars in federal funding. So far, 11 states have taken the exam and it has sparked protests and a massive opt-out movement across the country. PARCC is tied to the Common Core curriculum which is an attempt to standardize what is taught in schools nationwide.

Option #2: Stick with the Massachusetts created MCAS. MCAS stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and it has been a high school graduation requirement since 2003.

Option #3: "MCAS 2.0" This recently added option would allow local education leaders to once again create our own state-wide exam.

After two years of debate, Superintendent Eric Conti is eager for a decision. "We will lead the nation no matter what assessment they pick."

A recent study comparing MCAS and PARCC found the two are about the same when it comes to predicting how well a student is prepared for college. Regardless of the vote, MCAS will remain a graduation requirement through at least 2019.

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