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PARCC Prototype Assessments - Much Still to Do

Published on Wed, 11/21/2012

Latest in our series of reviews of new assessment resources.

PARCC Prototype Assessments - An Overview

In August, 2012, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), one of two Federally supported consortia of states working on assessments of the Common Core State Standards, released its first set of prototype assessments, offering important signals about where these key tools are headed.

These prototypes aim to communicate what the process will be about and something of how it will work, including the use of online technologies. These are not sample tests. And so far, they cover a very narrow range of content.

According to PARCC, “This initial release of 26 prototypes is just the beginning. Over the next two years, additional prototypes and rubrics will be released to represent the full range of assessment tasks that will be included on actual PARCC assessments beginning in 2014–2015. These new additions will help to paint a more complete picture of the PARCC assessment design in each content area and at each grade level.”

PARCC assessments aim to employ “texts worth reading,” and “questions worth answering.” Furthermore, all tasks feature a degree of text complexity. All require students to find and use evidence. All require students to build content knowledge.

The PARCC site offers additional details, including thoughts on its plans to make assessments accessible to ALL students.

What Is Useful for History Educators about the Prototypes?

What is most valuable about these prototypes is that they offer in-depth explanation and rationale for how and why the question and rubric are structured as they are. Exactly how does the question address the standards? And why did the question writers choose each component of the assessment? It is as welcome as it is rare to get this kind of insight from test developers. As one would expect, of course each question quite closely addresses specific standards.

The prototypes offer a glimpse of how online testing will shape the process. For example, in one question, students click on points of evidence within the text passage. This modest demonstration is certainly useful.

It is less clear how the format will shape apparently common open response questions.

  • Sample question: • Based on the information in the text “Biography of Amelia Earhart,” write an essay that summarizes and explains the challenges Earhart faced throughout her life. • Remember to use textual evidence to support your ideas.”

Questions are solid but the process so far simply leads to an empty box, backed by a pdf of a rubric. Perhaps the most informative resource on the site is the ELA Expanded Rubric for Analytic and Narrative Writing. Once again, The rubric is solid, but not in itself groundbreaking. It is not yet clear who will score the answers.

What about the Prototypes Does Not Work for History Educators?

None of this first batch of prototypes address topics of history. Furthermore, none includes any primary sources. The seventh grade assessments center on biographies of historical figure, Amelia Earhart. Yet the questions stress her personal character and the human interest story of her disappearance rather than the larger social, political, or technological significance of her life and work.

It is difficult to judge the quality of the elementary prototypes, in any case, since they identify but do not include the associated texts.


This work is good as far as it goes. Yet with the clock ticking, one hopes that illustrative history-focused prototypes appear soon.

In this release, PARCC does not yet attempt to address here the many logistical challenges that high stakes online testing raises. Those questions like many others, will have to wait.

Rich Cairn

Civics and Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Collaborative for Educational Services
Rich Cairn founded Emerging America in 2006, which features the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Collaborative for Educational Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History program, "Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry." The Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse, supported by the Library of Congress TPS program promotes full inclusion of students with disabilities and English Learners in civics and social studies education.