Get to Know the PARCC Assessment


by Zena Smith

Did you know that Illinois (along with several other states) recently overhauled its standardized testing procedures?

That’s right. The ISAT of old out, and it’s been replaced in 2015 by a new yearly exam called the PARCC Assessment. Sound familiar? Maybe not! As hard as they sometimes try, our schools don’t always succeed in keeping parents in the loop about these big changes.

If you’re the kind of parent who likes to know exactly what their student is doing in school, then the time to learn about PARCC is now, because the assessment is under way!

What is PARCC?

PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This is a partnership between 26 states, plus the District of Columbia, who have gotten together to improve standardized testing and accountability practices across the United States. The PARCC Assessment is a new, yearly standardized test assessment developed by Pearson.

Who takes the PARCC Assessment?

As of now, all students in grades 3-8 are required to take PARCC. Students are also required to take the assessment once in high school; however, the details on high school–level administration are determined by the district.

What does PARCC measure?

Like its predecessor (the ISAT), the PARCC Assessment will measure your student’s mastery of grade level–appropriate skills in  mathematics and English language arts. However, unlike previous tests, the PARCC Assessment will also include technology-based tasks designed to simulate tasks that your student might perform at the college level or on the job. This is all part of PARCC’s larger goal: to create a standardized testing system that doesn’t just measure knowledge, but also predicts students’ chances at success in college and beyond.

What problem is PARCC trying to solve?

The PARCC Assessment aims to solve a few key problems in standardized testing.

First, PARCC wants to replace some multiple-choice questions with more analytic tasks. This is a trend that is taking place all over the test world. Rather than asking students to choose the right answer from a list, the PARCC Assessment will encourage them to find the right answer by thinking deeply about information they’re given. Because students can’t “fake” this kind of analysis in the same way that they could “fake” the right answer on a multiple-choice test (by guessing), the PARCC Assessment will give a better picture of their intellectual maturity and readiness for the next level.

The other purpose of PARCC is to create a standardized test environment that better aligns with the new Common Core Standards—in Illinois and across the country. Since the Common Core is a fairly new concept in our school systems, the old tests (ISAT) no longer tested the knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn. PARCC will ensure that lesson plans and test requirements match up in every classroom.

What was wrong with the ISAT?

Simply put, the ISAT was outdated. It was not Common Core–aligned, it was too heavy on multiple-choice questions, and it only assessed what students already know—not whether they are prepared for college and careers. In short, it was time for a change.

When is the PARCC assessment administered?

Depending on where your student goes to school, they may have just finished the PARCC Assessment, or they may be smack dab in the middle of it. All PARCC testing will be completed by April 10th, but the assessments themselves are scheduled in “windows,” which means each school will have its own dates. Check with your student’s teacher, or consult PARCC’s assessment table for more information.

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How can I help my child prepare for the PARCC assessment?

We suggest visiting Pearson’s PARCC assessment page. There, you can reference sample items, view test tutorials, or even take a practice test.

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