The new language arts and math tests most Colorado students took last spring have been something of a black box for parents, who’ve had to rely on their kids’ descriptions of questions to get any sense of what they’re all about.
Actual test questions were a closely held secret last spring. But the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the organization that produced the tests for Colorado and other states, recently released items from last spring’s exams.
The online PARCC exams were designed to be different from previous standardized state exams. They are supposed to emphasize students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills. For example, on some questions — particularly in math — students are asked to not just give an answer but show how they got there.
The freshly released items provide a look into how the tests are different. Here are four examples provided by PARCC illustrating how things used to be compared with the PARCC way:
5th grade language arts
In contrast to a straight-forward multiple choice question, students are given a passage to read and then must answer two questions based on that question.
4th grade math
Instead of answering two math questions based on a graphic, students are asked a three-part question that requires a deeper understanding of fractions.
7th grade language arts
The old-style question gives students a brief statement and asks them to write a persuasive essay about it. The new question requires students to read a webpage and an article, and to view a video — then asks them to write an essay analyzing the arguments from those sources.
6th grade math
The old question asks for a single answer, while the new question requires two answers — and explanations.
To review the 2015 questions that PARCC has released, use this link. Warning: The information is fairly technical and appears to be designed more for teachers than for parents. Scroll down the page and scan the left-hand gray column titled “Resource name.” Links labeled “Item set” will take you to questions. Once a link opens, scroll to the fourth page for the question.
It may be easier to take one or more of the PARCC practice tests. The tests are available for both language arts and math in every grade from 3 through 11. You can take the tests online or on paper.