This school year, eleven states and the District of Columbia will roll out new standardized tests in math and English language arts/literacy designed by PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
There are many groups protesting this new series of standardized tests. Part of the problem is that developments and decisions related to the assessments are still unfolding, and are announced sporadically by PARCC.
If your state or school district is participating, here are some facts that may help answer your basic questions about PARCC:
PARCC is a consortium of states working together to develop assessments that measure the college and career readiness of their students. The assessments are designed to test learning objectives set by the Common Core State Standards. 46 states and the District of Columbia originally signed on to the standards, but there has been growing resistance to its implementation in at least 12 states.
The PARCC governing board is comprised of representatives from the District of Columbia and the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
New York State has no current plans to administer the tests, although it will allow school districts to participate in field tests, or a trial run of the tests.
Pennsylvania is also a participating state. It is interested in the consortium’s activities, but has not adopted the assessments at this time.
The tests have been developed in partnership with education software company, Pearson Inc.
Format of the Tests
Schools in the governing states (except for New York) will administer the test in two sections: a longer performance-based component when the school year is 75 percent over, and a shorter end-of-year component when the school year is coming to a close. All students in grades 3–8 will take these tests during the spring of 2015. In most PARCC states, students in grades 9–11 will also take assessments. The tests will be administered online, but some exceptions have been made to administer paper and pencil tests where necessary.
There is generally a 20-day window when computer-based testing for each component can occur, although each child will individually spend approximately 40 to 60 minutes per unit of testing. The 20-day window of time is allotted to provide enough opportunity for schools with limited bandwidth, computers, and other devices to administer the tests.
The cumulative testing times, which include both components, are as follows:
- 8 hours in 3rd grade;
- Just over 9 hours in grades 4 and 5;
- A little less than 9.5 hours in middle school
- A little more than 9.5 hours in high school
Performance-Based Assessments and End-of-Year Assessments
Two rounds of testing will be used to assess skills and cover different knowledge areas:
- The performance-based component will be held in early spring of 2015 because it will take longer to score. Earlier testing will also allow students to get feedback before the next component.
- In language arts, students will be required to write essay answers with supporting evidence from fiction and nonfiction passages that they read. They may also be required to answer questions based on video or audio.
- In math, students will solve real world, multi-step problems that require reasoning.
- This portion will be held in the May/June timeframe.
- In English language arts/literacy, students will be tested on vocabulary and reading comprehension.
- In math, students will be tested on mathematical concepts through problem solving.
Both tests will focus on reasoning and application of concepts, rather than on memorization of information.
Level of Difficulty and Passing Marks
You can try some practice tests and samples published by the PARCC.
After trying the 4th grade language arts and math samples, I believe the test’s content is much more difficult than what my 4th grader is used to. The reading comprehension passage was longer than the ones I have seen him get from school in the past. Recently, however, he has brought home longer and more complex passages as part of his homework, so I do believe that schools are working to prepare students for these assessments.
Also, most of the questions in both the English and math tests require critical thinking and application of concepts, rather than straightforward answers. The purpose of the Common Core and the PARCC tests is to improve our kids’ critical reasoning skills. It's possible that they won't do very well the first year that the tests are in use, as districts and teachers continue to re-align curricula with the new assessments. I believe the long-term learning goals are important, but I will be cautious about pressuring my child to excel at something that he's unfamiliar with.
Strangely enough, passing scores will be determined and published later in the year by the PARCC, after the tests have been administered.
Accommodations for English Language Learners and Students with Special Needs
Special accommodations will be made for English Language Learners and students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Students with special needs will also be able to take paper tests instead of computer-based tests if necessary.
Consequences of Not Passing
As of now, schools will not make kids repeat a grade solely on the basis of the test results. Nor will test results affect their report card grades. A child’s year-long performance in the classroom will be given more importance in determining whether she will advance to the next grade at the end of the year.
PARCC Tests and High School Graduation
High school graduation requirements vary from state to state. For the next few years, many states will not consider PARCC test results when determining eligibility for a high school diploma. It’s best to check with your state’s Department of Education about any changes in graduation requirements.
Tips to Prepare
Talk to your child’s teacher to understand what’s being done to prepare kids, and ask how you can help your child.
If you have younger kids, ensure that they get sufficient typing practice and are comfortable using the mouse, navigating around the screen, and typing out longer answers. Some free online games such as Dance Mat Typing by the BBC can help budding typists.
Help kids get accustomed to reading longer passages of text online — both fiction and nonfiction. You can do this through e-books of their favorite stories or through news websites for kids, such as Time for Kids or National Geographic Kids. Ask them questions to make sure they comprehend what they are reading.
Have kids take the practice tests, and check the website from time to time for the latest published sample questions.
Possibility of Opting Out
While states discourage children from “opting out” of the tests, parents do have the “right to refuse” when it comes to taking standardized tests. In the past, kids who abstained from taking standardized tests were asked to read quietly in another room while the tests were being administered. It is not clear what consequences children will face if they refuse to take the PARCC tests. It would be best to send a letter to your child’s school informing them of your decision, and asking for a written document that details any consequences of refusing to take the tests.
The PARCC Assessment (2014). Retrieved January 6, 2015 from PARCC Online
Did You Know: Why Are There Two Parts to the Test? (2015, January 5). Retrieved January 6, 2015 from PARCC Online
New Jersey PTA PARCC Q+A Guide for Parents. Retrieved January 6, 2015 from New Jersey PTA.
Departments of Education for Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island.