Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers | PARCC
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

By Parcc Communications Team

“How does PARCC make sure reading passages are grade-level appropriate?” It's a question we hear often. We asked Bonnie Hain, PARCC’s director of English language arts content to explain.

PARCC test items go through a rigorous multistep process before being selected and approved. Grade level classroom teachers and other educators are involved at nearly every step in the process and review all items before they make it onto a test. More than 30 people — mostly classroom teachers and other educators — review each item.

Items are field tested, results are analyzed. Teachers and other educators also review items for cultural and other bias or insensitivity, to be sure that the content of a question or the way it is worded does not put any group of students at a disadvantage.

At any point in the process, an item might be sent back to the drawing board or thrown out entirely.

So, for example, the fourth grade ELA items were reviewed and approved by fourth grade teachers and other educators and experts and found to be appropriate.

There has been some public discussion of readability formulas and whether they accurately reflect the grade-level appropriateness of reading passages. In developing the PARCC assessment, classroom teachers and educators are put in charge of determining appropriateness, not formulas.  

Readability formulas use statistics such as the number of syllables per word, the number of words per sentence, etc. to approximate what typical grade-level text looks like.  These approximations are estimates that work well for simple informational prose, but they don’t work as well for many literary genres such as poetry or drama or for science and technical texts.  

In fact, the Common Core standards, in Appendix A indicate that readability formulas should not override professional judgment in choosing reading passages.

Experience shows that students are capable of meeting rigorous expectations. Fourth graders who took the field test in spring 2014, were able to answer the questions and did not report that the test was too hard to read. This is why states adopted new standards — because they know that setting standards too low underestimates the abilities of students, as well as what we know they need to be competitive internationally.

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