I took the PARCC tenth grade English Language Arts Literacy test. Now I don’t have to listen to hearsay complaints about the test. You can too. Click here. I’ll save you the suspense. I scored 16 out of a possible 24 points.
Don’t try to log in with your name. The machine will whir, allow you to go to the beginning of the test, then return you to the login screen. Just leave the default login Guest.
The question setup is straightforward. On the left side of your screen is a passage. The paragraphs are numbered. You better know how to scroll. On the right are two question parts. The first asks a relatively straightforward question about the passage. You are given four choices. The second part asks you to justify your answer to the first. Also four choices. If you get the first one wrong, your chances of correctly answering the second are about nil.
Some questions require you to drag-and-drop a snippet. Others require you to select and highlight a snippet. Question 7 required an essay response. If I had known that (a) it was worth only 1 point of 24, I would have skipped it, and (b) scoring it would not be automated, I wouldn’t have spent a quarter hour writing it.
The test was half and half fiction and non-fiction. The selections were good. The questions were … well … I’m an engineer, not a poet.
My raw score was 16/23. Where that put me on the scale of high school sophomores, I don’t know. Whether it would put me on the graduation list from a New Jersey high school I don’t know either. Pearson’s web site, branded TestNav, provides options to log into six states and Puerto Rico, but not New Jersey.
I took the test for Algebra I, the requirement for graduation from a NJ high school. In the first half, you aren’t allowed a calculator. The first question asked the roots of a polynomial. If you were prepared, the test went quickly. If not, you might have been able to puzzle it out, but not before the buzzer went off. Other questions, particularly in statistics, require you know definitions precisely and immediately, otherwise no amount of puzzling will help. You need to know how a median is calculated in an even numbered population and its representation in a box plot.
In the second half you are invited to use a calculator. The structure of the questions is such that you are better off working out the problem, saving the calculator for arithmetic at the end. One question about a boat going up and down river was designed to trap the test taker into making all sorts of calculations that were irrelevant to the answer. Half of the calculator section was left ungraded, waiting for my teacher or test administrator to mark my work. I fear that will make the results variable between teachers, districts, and states.
The calculator problems particularly were very relevant to real life. “If you work two jobs, one of which you prefer but pays less, how many hours …?” “If you make a product to sell at price x and 80% is sold, should you raise the price to y if you expect to sell only 70%?” That question was politically correct. Two boys were baking cookies for a bake sale. Great questions. Kudos to the authors.
When you open a unit of the Algebra I test (there are three), you are told the unit has, for example, fourteen questions. That’s disingenuous. Each question has multiple parts, two, or three. Many parts offer six multiple choice options, from which you need to select all that are true. Some parts require that you construct a graph. One graph I constructed had seven elements. Get one wrong and you lose all the points for that item. After I took the test (and aced it) I went back and experimented with wrong answers. No partial credit on the questions that ask for “all correct statements.”
Now that we know what the test looks and feels like, it’s a matter of understanding how the grading works. In no possible scenario could it be that 65% of NJ high schoolers are unprepared to graduate. The scoring of the test need a good hard look. It’s not just a matter of looking at percentiles to define the cut scores. It means going to each question and asking, “Do I expect most high school graduates to be able to answer this question?”
Redefinition of levels 1-5 (the possible scores on the tests) will mean that 2016 results don’t predict what’ll happen in 2021 and that there can be no comparison between the two. If your child scored badly in 2015 or 2016, don’t sweat it.
For those who are complaining about the cost of PARCC testing, here’s the deal: Every test has nine versions, to take care of every special needs group. Making a simple on-the-screen multiple test is cheap. This other stuff isn’t.
In summary, I believe that PARCC is superior in form and content to the SATs I took (but many years ago). It suffers from a lack of history that the SAT certainly has. With four more years of development and history, I think it will be an excellent test for high school graduation in New Jersey.