PARCC, Smarter Balanced Measure Up Well in Analysis


A study on the strengths and weaknesses of new assessments has been released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, finding that PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams measure up well.

The study examines the ACT Aspire, PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and Massachusetts’ state exam (MCAS) from a third-party perspective to address questions that policymakers may have about the new exams.

Each test was evaluated by a panel of experts. The ELA/literacy panel was led by Charles Perfetti, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at University of Pittsburgh, and the panel on math was led by Roger Howe, Professor of Mathematics at Yale. They graded the exams against the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Criteria for Procuring and Evaluating High-Quality Assessments.

The authors summarized their most important findings: that PARCC and Smarter Balanced best matched the CCSSO Criteria. ACT Aspire and MCAS both scored well on their quality and the depth of knowledge that they assessed. However, ACT Aspire and MCAS were found to be inadequate at assessing some of the important content in Common Core standards in both literacy and math.

The study reads:

We are living in a time of political upheaval, divisiveness, and vitriol. The public’s faith in government and other large institutions is at an all-time low. So we’re glad to be the bearers of good news for a change. All four tests we evaluated boasted items of high technical quality. Further, the next generation assessments that were developed with the Common Core in mind have largely delivered on their promises. Yes, they have improvements to make (you’ll see that our reviewers weren’t shy in spelling those out). But they tend to reflect the content deemed essential in the Common Core standards and demand much from students cognitively. They are, in fact, the kind of tests that many teachers have asked state officials to build for years. Now they have them.

They also provided a breakdown of the tests’ strengths and weaknesses.

The ACT Aspire evaluates language skills very well, including high-quality and clear math material. However, it does not require students to cite specific textual information to support conclusions that they make, and does not require analysis of reading material.

The MCAS requires close reading, and tests students on a variety of subjects in both math and ELA. However, the MCAS is unclear on how its math items relate to content standards.

PARCC tests students on a range of subjects and item types, but the authors felt that it would benefit from increasing its focus on grade 5 essential content.

Smarter Balanced is aligned with Common Core standards, and does a particularly good job of assessing writing and research. However, it could be improved by placing more emphasis on academic vocabulary.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based in Ohio, focuses on improving education through research, analysis, and commentary alongside the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. The organization has been evaluating academic standards since 1997.

Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments by Nancy Doorey and Morgan Polikoff was published February 11th. For the full text of the study, visit the Thomas B. Fordham Institute‘s website.