PARCC Assessment – Good or Bad? Depends How It’s Used.


Recent news suggests a surge of opposition to Common Core – and, more directly, its related standardized assessment the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) — is sweeping the country. Parents, educators, academics and even entertainers, such as Louis CK, are speaking out, and in many cases, boycotting the PARCC.  Wheelock early childhood education faculty member, Diane Levin, and colleagues from the Defending the Early Years initiative, recently took issue with the PARCC in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet Blog.

But is the PARCC assessment bad?  In fairness, I have not thoroughly reviewed the PARCC to determine whether its content is aligned with curriculum and key constructs, developmentally appropriate, or clear in task.  These are all important considerations.  However, when it comes to assessments, I always start with the question: how is an assessment used?

 Educators and schools should be ranked on how well they use assessment data to understand children, guide individual and group lessons, and communicate with families about their child’s learning strengths and challenges. 
"Student learning--and people!--are fluid and dynamic"
“Student learning–and people!–are fluid and dynamic”

To elaborate:

  • If an assessment is administered infrequently, inaccessible to educators and families, not used to construct profiles of student strengths and challenges, or woven into the learning culture of the school, that’s a problem,  If, however, it is regularly and familiarly used by educators and families as a resource to support student learning, provides educators and families with a window into what students can do and how they understand something or process information, and how adults can assist them, that’s good.
  • If an assessment focuses on what a student knows at a given moment in time, that’s a problem.  Student learning – and people! – are fluid and dynamic. Assessments that happen once per year do not capture this change or aspects, such as student growth or regression, well. One-time assessments are also subject to personal or situational events, such as family stress, bad days or moods, physical health, etc. If, on the other hand, an assessment is given multiple times over a school year and reviewed regularly by educators and families to map learning progress over time, that’s good.
  • Finally, if an assessment is used to rank an educator and/or school, that’s a problem. There are far too many variables that impact student learning—both in and outside of school— to place any significant weight on one variable –e.g. the teacher. Instead, I would argue that educators and schools should be ranked on how well they use assessment data to understand children, guide individual and group lessons, and communicate with families about their child’s learning strengths and challenges. That use of assessment is also good.

So is the PARCC good or bad?  Families and educators should also ask how is it used – then decide.

Jake Murray

Jake Murray is the Senior Director of the Wheelock College Aspire Institute.


Photo Credit: Photo from Renato Ganoza’s Flickr feed and used under a Creative Commons Attribution License. 


 Share your views
  1. Hi Jake, this is such a great, balanced article. My company Gradeable is releasing an easy PARCC assessment/question creation tool, to make the PARCC assessment process more dynamic and formative. We’re writing a PARCC focused blog post right now, do you mind if we quote you?

  2. By all points then, PARCC is BAD.
    1. it is not at all used to help the children. The teachers will never see the scored test to know where or how the student performed on items or themes, and when they do get the aggregate score it will be November – 5 months after those children have left that teacher’s class.
    2. it is given once – well, really many times since there are 2 units of Math and 3 units of ELA, but each of those is a one time assessment. A snapshot of what my child knows about taking a computer test on math in 80 minutes.
    3. I’m not positive on this one yet, simply because I have not heard how they will use PARCC for teacher assessment. What I do know is that the NWEA is used by my district to assess a teacher’s performance and 50% of her performance is based on the percentage of kids in her class that hit an arbitrary “growth” score set by some matrix inside of the test — regardless of whether that kid was already advanced and moved up just few points, or was at the bottom of the bunch and moved up quite a bit — either way, if they didn’t hit their mark, they are “non learners” for that teacher. I cynically assume that PARCC will be used the same way. As they phase out NWEA they will want some other fast and easy (though inaccurate) metric to assess teachers.