PARCCing: Will the new Common Core PARCC Assessments Improve Instruction or Increase Corrupt Practices?

PARCC, the multi-state consortium that is preparing the new reading and mathematics assessments has released sample prototype questions  that reflect the embedding of the Common Core. In the backrooms of state education departments the commissariat twitched.

State after state jumped on board lauding the upgrading of instruction and the dawning age of the reform era.

Now that the prototype questions have been released these very same departments of education are worried, really, really worried.

The Pearson and/or Mc Graw Hill constructed tests have been the standard for years. Schools and school districts have purchased test prep materials and elaborate data systems: hopefully, the use of the test prep and data tools will raise scores, not necessarily knowledge or skills, its scores that count!

The prototype questions are more difficult, far, far more difficult than the current range of tests. Below is a sample from the PARCC site.

Grade 10 English Language Arts Essay

Use what you have learned from reading “ Daedalus and Icarus ” by Ovid and “ To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph ” by Anne Sexton to write an essay that analyzes how Icarus’s experience of flying is portrayed differently in the two texts.

Develop your essay by providing textual evidence from both texts. Be sure to follow the conventions of Standard English.


The passage ‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Daedalus and Icarus’ is in the public domain. You may access the poem by clicking on the link below.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Daedalus and Icarus

Sexton, Anne. “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph by Anne Sexton.” Hello Poetry. 2009. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <>

For years the state tests have followed a similar format; vendors produced test prep guides, sample questions and exercises that mirrored the test. The theory: if you prep the kid enough s/he will be prepared for the test. S/he may only know how to take a test, and a few weeks later s/he may not be able to replicate the score – matters not: it’s the score on the test that determine the accountability metric for the school and the classroom teacher.

The PARCC prototype questions would appear to test the ability to read a complex text and write an evidence-based essay, the ability to read a passage and determine the meaning of a word as well as a passage; skills that don’t lend themselves to test prep manuals.

Some argue that the whole purpose of the new PARCC assessment is to show the nation’s public schools are failing and advocate for limitless charter schools and parent vouchers – the demise of public schools – perhaps too harsh but in this climate not outrageous.

For others a wakeup call: we must raise the bar; somehow increase achievement, increase student understandings by teaching more complex texts in a different environment – not continually teaching “where the students are,” lowering the bar incrementally until the test reaches down to the student ability level.

The Common Core, at times overly dense, is a guide, not a curriculum. For example, the section on Informational Text: Grades 9-10, as follows,

  • Cite  strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

I can almost guarantee that Tweed will tell principals that each unit and lesson plan must reference the particular Common Core standard, by number and letter, and each supervisory observation will comment on the success, or lack thereof, of the embedding of the standard in the lesson.

A mechanical compliance system which will assure mechanical lesson plans – and little change in classroom practice.

If the state controls the setting of the scale scores (See a detailed explanation of “raw” versus “scaled score” here  and here, voila, the magicians in the back rooms will release scores that show stunning successes. If the PARCC folk control the actual test from beginning to end, state commissioners, superintendents and principals are nervous.

Of course, the politics of the moment may prevail, delays in test creation, that annoying question of who provides the hundreds of millions to create and manage a national test and whether the next president and the next Congress is as committed to testing.

Do not fear, the Common Core guys/gals invent, the entrepreneurs circumvent.

Education Week reports,

the potential for embarrassment in states with wide gaps in scores between state-specific and common assessments could mean an opportunity in the eyes of investors and education companies


Robert Lytle of the Parthenon Group, a Boston-based global consulting firm recently gave a presentation entitled, “Balancing Opportunity and Risk in K-12 Publishing,” the audience: a 100 private equity investors and education executives.

Lytle told the group,

…states suddenly looking at much lower test scores are going to need some help in improving them … the market is heading toward big performance gaps … when presented to the room of investors his explanation garnered a lot of interest.

With piles of Race to the Top dollars floating around in states and school districts the $8 billion education publishing industry will be prime competitors for the dollars to “close the achievement gap,” well, not actually, in reality, how do we get these kids to “pass” the tests? Is there some package of test prep materials that will allow us to circumvent the really hard work of upgrading instructional practice, addressing the impact of poverty and the remnants of racism that drags down student achievement? (Read Pedro Noguera, “The Trouble with Black Boys”)

School districts, New York City is a prime example, have abrogated their responsibility to do the hard work – to hire and retain the best teachers, to hire supervisors who were highly effective classroom teachers, to provide the supports in schools and classrooms, to encourage and motivate and stimulate and facilitate teams of teachers to address students’ needs and constantly raise the bar … instead … a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” simply whisper to schools, raise the scores, do what you have to do … don’t get caught. (Read Gotham School excellent post here).

Teachers and principals struggle every day; it’s a marathon not a sprint. Great days and great lessons and days when everything falls apart. Kids who show progress and kids who regress.

Superintendents and mayors and governors have contracts with termination dates and there’s always an upcoming election.

For too many the goal is to “show progress,” whatever that means, to get that contract renewed or win the next election.

The PARCC assessments might be a wakeup call for schools and school districts, or, an opportunity for the investors to cash in on the fears of school and school district leaders.

Ayn Rand would be smiling and Tom Jefferson turning over in his grave.


One response to “PARCCing: Will the new Common Core PARCC Assessments Improve Instruction or Increase Corrupt Practices?

  1. Something else different and maybe useful for students and teachers is how the assessment system as a whole works. See


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