PARCC Test A Burden For Students

Next year, studlogo-parccents will be taking the PARCC Test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) in place of other standardized tests like high school assessments. The PARCC Test is completely electronic, with comprehensive Math and English sections that are designed to encourage critical thinking. The PARCC Test is the benchmark with which Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics will be measured. I took a pilot version of the PARCC Test to give students an idea of what to expect next year.*

The English section of the test is not unlike many of the English assessments we have seen in the past: short readings, multiple choice questions, and an essay question. I guess they don’t want to mess with something that works, right? At first glance, there are only a couple of minor differences that inevitably come from the clunkiness of a new online test interface. However, a second look exposes the English section’s biggest benefactor and detractor: its level of difficulty. The test is much harder than any English assessment in recent memory. The test asks students to juggle two large bodies of text, answer multiple choice questions related to both questions, and then complete an essay that interprets both passages to analyze their collective themes and meanings. This English section is a mammoth undertaking for almost any student, and it begs the question: Is a harder test the best way to increase academic standards in America? I wonder if a more demanding, rigorous test will provide harder checkpoints that students will meet, or if it will be a source of constant frustration for students.

The Math section of the test looks and feels different than any pen and paper Math test I have ever taken. These questions were more difficult than other standardized tests, to boot. I think the test is clunky because it is new, which makes PARCC fall short of any self-imposed expectations of educational innovation. The Math section sports a free response that is, um, different. While trying to provide students with all the tools to masterfully navigate a math question, the free response interface is a barrier to critical thinking. The interface offers everything from simple addition and subtraction tools to trigonometry and greek variables. It is difficult to figure out exactly how the test-makers want the students to go about answering the question when they provide an all-inclusive free-response interface to answer an open ended question. And that pretty much sums up the whole Math section. A huge plus to this test is that it encourages mathematical thinking that takes students above and beyond the typical standardized “plug-and-chug” testing mentality. This math section dreams of challenging students to unlock the system of thought that takes a mathematical approach to independently answering questions without the crutch of teacher assistance or a study guide.

Time will tell if the PARCC test can do that, but it will take some adjusting to make sure this test is towing the line behind challenging and just behind hard for hard’s sake. Trying to develop a test that effectively measures academic growth while fostering critical thinking in students without leaving some kids behind is extremely difficult. Ultimately, trying to review this test and develop conclusions as to whether it will be effective or not has just raised even more questions about the test. Arguably, the best way to increase America’s competency in an ever-competitive world is to increase our standards for education. However, this test holds a huge potential to hurt those students who are not “math people” or “English people.” While overcoming a challenging test like this will help students grow, what about those students who simply cannot overcome a challenge of this caliber?

*You can take the pilot version of this test here: