PARCC and SBAC Take Some Significant Departures from Standard State Assessment Design.

By Cameron Pipkin

Most of us, I’m assuming, have heard about the Common Core Standards by now. This blog, by and large, has been dedicated to explaining what the Standards are, how they’re being received, and how to implement them.

But now the tricky part’s started, the part that no one’s looking forward to.

Just days ago the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), one of the two consortia of U.S. states developing Common Core Standards assessments, released their first set of sample questions. Then, today, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) did the same, putting out their first sampling of questions made to identify “where gaps may exist and how they can be addressed well before students enter college or the workforce.”

Well, the language is aligned to the Common Core at least. In all, I’m still nervous about these Common Core Standards assessments. After spending a year studying the Standards, I’ve really become convinced of their quality, and their potential to impact learning. Assessments, as we’ve learned over the past decade, can guide teaching every bit as much or more than standards. If we don’t get our Common Core assessments right, we may as well scrap the entire program.

Or maybe, after NCLB, I just get anxious every time I hear the word “assessment.”

To view SBAC sample questions, click here.

To view PARCC sample questions, click here.


Here are some sample PARCC questions:

Grade 3 ESBR from End of Year Assessment

Part A

What is one main idea of “How Animals Live?”

    a. There are many types of animals on the planet.

    b. Animals need water to live.

    c. There are many ways to sort different animals.

    d. Animals begin their life cycles in different forms.

Part B

Which detail from the article best supports your answer to Part A?

    a. “Animals get oxygen from air or water.”

    b. “Animals can be grouped by their traits.”

    c. “Worms are invertebrates.”

    d. “All animals grow and change over time.”

    e. “Almost all animals need water, food, oxygen, and shelter to live.”

My thoughts:

First thing, this looks a lot like other standardized tests I’ve seen. My second thought aligns with a concern that other educators have had with the Standards themselves: it seems pretty difficult for the grade level. Am I underestimating 9 year olds?

Of course, this isn’t exactly like other standardized tests. The Common Core Standards assessment follow-up question does a good job of testing a critical 3rd grade ELA standard, as it requires the student to answer questions about the text siting details from the text itself.

Sample math questions (which, for the sake of space, I’ll refrain from posting here) differ from typical standardized tests as they assess conceptual understanding in addition to procedural skills. Some questions, for example, include an alternative to the typical way of gauging elementary students’ grasp of fractions.

For all of this, the greatest departure from traditional standardized tests are performance tasks, which engage students in more complex, prolonged exercises.

What do you think? Looking over a few of the PARCC and SBAC sample questions, are you concerned? Encouraged? I’d love to hear what you have to say.




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