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The PARCC Test: An Overview

Jordan Catapano


Many educators would like to say they’re familiar with the state-specific annual assessments. Secondary level instructors would recall the ACT and SAT, as well as AP tests and other college-readiness examinations. And although there have been recent changes in the SAT and more states have jumped on-board the ACT acceptance train, there hasn’t been anything vastly new to write home about. Until now.

Recently, a new player has entered the game—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career test (or PARCC test) is a part for a growing number of states. It’s currently finishing up its field testing, but it will likely be introduced to you more formally in the 2014-2015 school year. The PARCC test was born out of a necessity created by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The standards mandate very specific skills that students of each grade level should accomplish, and PARCC is designed to specifically assess whether or not students are meeting those metrics.

PARCC assessments are computer-based (although a pencil-and-paper option exists) and are designed to assess students in grades 3-11 in mathematics and English/Language Arts. Being computer-based, the PARCC test should able to provide more accurate identification of lower-level performing students versus the standard. It will also allow PARCC assessment to be more “interactive and engaging.”

What’s unique about PARCC is that it’s not owned by a company in the way that ACT (Pearson), SAT (College Board) or other tests are. Instead, PARCC is a state-led initiative to develop assessments that mirror the Common Core, and 19 different states form this consortium.

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What the PARCC Test Assesses

The PARCC is specifically designed to align with the Common Core State Standards and provide accurate, measurable feedback regarding students’ progress toward college and career readiness. Also, since the CCSS claim to measure higher-order thinking skills, the PARCC assessment is designed to measure critical thinking, communications and problem solving in a manner that differs from current examinations. The thinking is that if multiple states provide an assessment based on the same standards, then states will have the consistency to compare and contrast one another at an unprecedented level.

What is on the PARCC Test?

This question is not easily answered, as PARCC is actually a series of tests provided to students year after year. In English Language Arts, PARCC’s objective is to assess student writing in addition to posing questions that require critical thinking. Many statewide tests do not currently do either of these, but PARCC intends to do both. In mathematics, PARCC assesses students not only on the answers they determine but also how they solved the problems.

How PARCC Will Work

Diagnostics. Districts may elect to participate in optional PARCC diagnostic – or “formative” – testing throughout the year. This can provide educators with multiple points of feedback before students perform the actual PARCC exam. Optional midyear examinations are also available.

Performance-Based Assessment (PBA). Toward the end of the school year, students will perform written responses to a series of English and mathematical prompts. For ELA, students will be asked to read age-appropriate literature and compose written analyses as well as a narrative. For math, students will be assessed on how they arrive at a given solution as well as have multiple real-world mathematical problems to solve.

End-of-Year assessments (EOY). At the end of the year, students will take a computer-scored test that poses a series of questions related to ELA and math. Their score will be combined with the PBA to provide a summative total.

Speaking and Listening. Since speaking and listening are part of the Common Core, they are part of PARCC as well. This portion of testing deviates from the PBA and EOY in that it may be given at any point throughout the year. Scores achieved here will not be combined with the PBA and EOY summative.

Practice and Preparation

Although PARCC is based off of the Common Core and has provided samples and tutorials, the processing of preparing for it is new for everybody. There are a growing number of resources available for districts, teachers, and students to prepare themselves for this new examination. Just to set the record straight, PARCC claims that it is not designed to replace testing utilized by two- and four-year universities. Other test dates that secondary schools may have traditionally reserved for this testing will likely remain for the time being.

States may become a participating state at any time, though the increasing debate over the CCSS may put this project to a rapid halt, but it’s better to be prepared for this new assessment than surprised. Like most changes, there will be growing pains, critics, and on-the-fly adjustments. Time will tell how effectively PARCC assesses student progress toward the Common Core or beyond it.

What are your thoughts on the PARCC exam? How is your state or district going about implementing it … or has your state avoided it completely? Tell us in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website


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