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What is the PARCC?

What is the PARCC?
Posted on 03/03/2016
(Are You Ready for Some Acronyms?)

By Kathy Greeley, ELA Coach

Each year, our students in grades 3-5 are required to take state-wide standardized tests in reading, writing, and math (5th graders also take a science exam). For more than 20 years, schools have given the MCAS, which stands for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. With the adoption of the Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS), there has been a push for a new kind of testing. Massachusetts considered switching to a test called the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), but in the end decided to create a new version of the MCAS (what people are calling MCAS 2.0) that would include elements of the PARCC test. This new test is expected to be ready for the spring of 2017. Because of the transition to a new test, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offered districts a choice between taking the MCAS or the PARCC. This year, the Cambridge School Committee voted to administer the PARCC.

So how is the PARCC different from the MCAS and what will it mean for our students? First, the PARCC will be fully administered in May (MCAS was given partly in March and partly in May to spread out the testing time). Unlike the MCAS, the PARCC tests are time-limited (except for English Language Learners and students with an Individual Educational Plan or IEP that gives them extra time for testing). Students will have three English Language Arts (ELA) sessions of 90 minutes each (except one of the three 3rd grade tests which is 75 minutes) and four Math sessions that are 60 minutes each. Fifth graders will still take the Science MCAS, which is two untimed sessions, also in May.

Is PARCC really that different than the MCAS? Yes, at least in ELA. The three different testing sessions focus on different tasks. In the first, students must read and answer questions on two different literary texts that are purposely paired. They then write a literary analysis essay. In the second session, students will receive two or more articles that they must read, answer questions and then write an essay as part of a “research simulation task.” For the final session, students read one literary text, answer questions, and then write a creative narrative response that is tied to and draws on the text.

Also, for each text selection, students are asked to answer questions in a two-part format. Part A asks for an answer to a question, and Part B asks for evidence to support that answer. For example, Part A of a 5th grade test asks, “What does the phrase ‘bored its way into my brain’ mean in paragraph 9 of Where the Red Fern Grows?” Part B then lists quotations from the text and asks students to choose “which quotation helps the reader understand the meaning of the answer to Part A?”

According to Math Coach Claire Dahill, the Math portion of the PARCC is more similar to the MCAS. Each test includes some computation items, some word problems, and students are expected to show their work to get credit for their answers. The PARCC also includes questions that require students to analyze and critique problems solved by someone else.

So how can we help to prepare our students for this new test? As families, the only thing you need to do is make sure they get a good night sleep and a healthy breakfast before each day of testing. As G&P teachers, we have generally approached standardized testing as we would any other genre of reading and writing. We help students understand the structure and unique language of testing. But we do not believe in an overemphasis on test preparation. We believe that if we teach our students to read, write and do math well and in accordance with the standards, our students will be ready for any test.

Note: The G&P Parent Coffee Talk on April 1st will be on the PARCC test, presented by Principal Tony Byers. So if you have any questions, please attend this session if you can!

PARCC/MCAS DATES 2016 

Testing window April 25th - May 27th


Tuesday, May 3rd
ELA Unit 1 

Grades 3, 4 and 5

Wednesday, May 4th
 ELA Unit 2 

Grade 3, 4 and 5

Thursday, May 5th
ELA Unit 3 

Grades 3, 4 and 5

Wednesday, May 11th
Grade 5 - MCAS Science Part 1

Thursday, May 12th
Grade 5 - MCAS Science Part 2

Monday, May 16th
Math Unit 1
Grades 3, 4 and 5

Tuesday, May 17th
Math Unit 2
Grades 3, 4 and 5

Thursday, May 19th
Math Unit 3
Grades 3, 4 and 5

Friday, May 20th
Math Unit 4
Grades 3, 4 and 5

May 23rd - May 27th
Make-up Testing

*5th Grade MCAS Science Make-up will be Wed., May 25th