Why Filling In Bubbles And Scantrons May Be Better- Problems With The PARCC Exam

The opening quote of Kristen Swanson’s article “Everything You Need To Know About Common Core Testing” is all too familiar: “When in doubt, just pick B.” Admit it. You are just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to using this strategy. However, this offense is forgivable because standardized tests are anxiety-producing. Although the newer exams being implemented are designed to be different from previous tests, they make me anxious for the next generation of students who are not good test-takers. In her article, Swanson explains that the two new exams, the Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are meant to eliminate the guessing pitfall of previous tests, but these new exams come with their own set of concerns, especially the PARCC.

The PARCC’s Confusing Questions

I have seen the PARCC firsthand and I have some major issues with it. Swanson explains that the PARCC is meant to eliminate the “remember and tell” technique and have students “research, create, and solve meaningful problems while incorporating evidence from a variety of sources and subject areas.” On the surface, this sounds like an excellent idea. However, based on my experience in the classroom, they are going about it the wrong way. Let’s use the 3rd grade math problem in Swanson’s article as an example.


This question is confusing. The way it is phrased is very wordy and vague. I am an adult and I was baffled at first; I can only imagine how a third grader might react. They may become overwhelmed and freeze up. I have seen it happen many times, even in the older grades. This is not the only example of a complicated question I have come across. There are countless. The PARCC may not have any letters to just randomly select, but if the questions are confusing and overly difficult, a student may write down any answer just to finish the problem. Is that really any different than just picking B?

“Old” Test Questions Are Clearer and More Relevant

I also think the farming question is not relevant to a third grader. Most likely, they will not be able to relate to a question like the one provided (unless they live in a rural area). I think the problem with the coins is much better suited for a child that age.


Not only is it clearer, the students will be more likely to use the knowledge they gain from the question in their daily lives.

The makers of the PARCC need to take such things into consideration when creating problems. The questions need to be understandable as well as recognizable to a child. I approve of what the test is trying to accomplish, but I think its creators need to be a little more realistic. I have seen the stress on students’ faces as they filled out PARCC practice tests, and on the actual testing day. Students came to me and told me that no matter how hard they tried, they “just didn’t get it.” One of the reading passages included on a practice test was The Count Of Monte Cristo. This book has a high reading level, but more importantly- what teenager in middle school in the US is going to care about or relate to a story about 19th century Europe? Very few, unfortunately.

Will This Method Be Effective?

The PARCC is attempting to invent more accurate, innovative, and fair exams for our students. As admirable as this is, I am weary of the new test because, although it may eliminate some of the older issues, it also creates new ones. I personally think that the test makers need to be more careful, and need to consider things from a student’s point of view. However, I suppose only time and test scores will tell how these exams are received by young students and if they really do offer a better, more efficient way of testing children.


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