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What is the PARCC Test? Everything You Need to Know

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Standardized testing has long been a hot-button topic, and with good reason. While proponents say these tests are crucial for measuring both student and teacher performance, critics argue that they take valuable time away from learning. In recent years, a great deal of the conversation has focused on the PARCC test, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Whether you’re a student taking the PARCC for the first time, a teacher administering the exam, or a parent with school-age children, it pays to know what this process entails. Read on for everything you need to know about PARCC.


Where Did PARCC Originate?


PARCC refers to a collection of exams administered to public school students on a yearly basis. Developed by experts from multiple states, PARCC exams are designed to measure student progress while establishing Common Core standards for grades 3-11. Not only do states examine student performance by school, identifying problem areas, but schools assess individual student performance to determine where extra help may be required.


The tests serve as replacements for older forms of standardized testing. However, that doesn’t mean the majority of educators are on board. As of 2018, only New Mexico, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia were still administering the full exam, while states like Colorado and Louisiana were incorporating just some PARCC questions into their own assessments.


Test Components and Scoring


Administered at the end of the school year, the tests are designed to assess both problem solving and critical thinking. Their goal is to ensure students are prepared for college and their professional lives. Additionally, the PARCC test ensures students are learning based on the Common Core standards. Because students take the PARCC test on a computer, numerous accommodations are available for those with learning challenges and disabilities.


The PARCC exams consist of two components: English/language arts and math. For the English/language arts portion of the exam, students read fiction and nonfiction passages, watch videos, and listen to audio recordings. Then they answer multiple choice questions and write responses based on what they learned.


For the math component, students solve problems requiring multi-step solutions. Because the math questions involve real-life situations, students must utilize reasoning and logic rather than rote memorization and procedure. Additionally, the revised PARCC exams require students to show their work. So, teachers have an enhanced ability to evaluate and identify gaps in understanding and tailor instruction accordingly.


PARCC scores are assigned based on performance levels. Students receive marks between Level 1 and Level 5, with Levels 4 and 5 indicating that students are performing well. Scoring Level 3 means students need a little more help to meet expectations. A score of Level 1 or Level 2 suggests that students require significant intervention.



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Benefits of the PARCC System


Proponents of the PARCC system say that it offers numerous benefits for both students and administrators. One advantage of PARCC over other standardized tests is that it doesn’t just use multiple-choice questions that assess what a student has memorized. Instead, the tests require students to employ logic and reasoning to answer questions and justify their responses. In this way, the test is evaluating a student’s ability to think critically.


Because PARCC focuses on applying skills rather than regurgitating information, some advocates argue that schools don’t have to “teach to the test” the way they do with other exams. Instead, educators can simply encourage students to think critically about all lessons.


Drawbacks to PARCC


Of course, not everyone is a proponent of PARCC tests. In fact, many administrators argue that teachers do spend a great deal of time preparing students for the test—time that could be better spent on classroom instruction. Because many students have not encountered a standardized test like PARCC before, educators need to prepare them to answer the certain type and style of questions. And younger students in particular may need help learning to manage their time on a test like PARCC.


Additionally, critics say that PARCC results in a great deal of stress for test takers. It’s no secret that many students suffer anxiety during testing. Because scoring at the lower levels on PARCC can have serious consequences, including being held back, students may feel even more worried about taking the exam. The strict testing environment, which limits student movement and behavior, can also be stressful for students.


Finally, some PARCC critics believe that the test has an unfair impact on diverse and underprivileged students and their teachers. Because test scores tend to be lower in impoverished regions, critics fear that these results will be used to justify holding students back, firing teachers, and even closing underperforming schools.


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Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.