The long-running debate over MCAS versus PARCC is about to reach the end, and the winner could be ... both.

The state's education commissioner has recommended Massachusetts adopt a new standardized test for public school students that includes elements of both MCAS and PARCC. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the recommendation.

No matter the outcome, local school officials said they are looking forward to a definitive answer that will allow them to better plan for future tests.

"My concern is how long do we stay in this hold pattern?" wondered Marblehead Superintendent Maryann Perry. "It's the uncertainty of what the state is expecting from districts."

Students have taken MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, since 1998. But the state education department has been looking to replace the test with a "next-generation MCAS" that will better prepare students for college and jobs.

About half of the state's public school districts administered the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC last spring on a trial basis, including the districts of Marblehead, Beverly and Danvers. Students who took PARCC this year will continue to do so next year, before the transition to the new test in 2017.

Beverly Superintendent Steven Hiersche said that city's students performed about the same on PARCC as they did on MCAS. He thinks the trial run will help students when they take the new test, whatever form it might take.

"I think it was to our advantage to take a look at a different kind of test," Hiersche said. "Even the kids had begun to get stale on the old MCAS tests. PARCC was more aligned to instruction."

Hiersche said adopting a new test that combines aspects of PARCC and MCAS will give Massachusetts more control over the test's content. PARCC was developed by a national consortium based on new Common Core standards.

Either way, Hiersche said, it is time to move on from MCAS.

"From our perspective as superintendents, we know we need something that measures what we're teaching," he said. "MCAS was developed back in the late '90s so it's really not effective anymore."

Dave McGeney, a Peabody School Committee member who has been a vocal opponent of PARCC and Common Core, said there was "some sense of victory" in Commissioner Mitchell Chester's recommendation to retain aspects of MCAS.

McGeney, however, said he is concerned that a new test might be "just PARCC repackaged." He said there is no evidence PARCC is effective and urged Gov. Charlie Baker to establish a new board to re-start the process of developing a test.

"He should do the same thing with the Massachusetts Board of Education that he has done with the MBTA," McGeney said.

Danvers School Committee member David Thomson said there should be a three-year moratorium on standardized testing until a solution is found.

"It's much better to take the time and have the right test in place that's going to have meaningful results," he said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

Grades 3-8 PARCC results for spring of 2015

Percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations

School English Math

Marblehead 81 68

Beverly 63 53

Danvers 59 44

State 60 52

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