New State Standardized Tests Will Take Students Nearly Twice as Long to Complete; PARCC Computer-Based Exams Begin in 2014-15

It will take Maryland students nearly twice as long to complete new state tests that the Maryland Department of Education says will more accurately measure college and career readiness.

Depending on grade level, completing the new math and English tests will take the typical student a total of 8 to 10 hours, combined, according to estimates released earlier this month by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the multi-state consortium creating the tests. The PARCC tests, based on the Common Core standards, will be administered to students in students in grades 3 – 11, replacing existing Maryland assessments beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

In an e-mail to The Dagger, William Reinhard, spokesman for MSDE, explained:

“PARCC test times are slightly less than twice as long as the Maryland School Assessment and the High School Assessments in English and algebra. The increase in time allotted for the tests was both expected and necessary. The purpose of PARCC, in alignment with the Common Core State Standards, is to gauge student preparedness for college and careers of the 21st Century. Measuring accurately the kinds of knowledge and skill students will need – critical reading, writing, problem-solving in mathematics—requires tasks that are not only cognitively demanding but also somewhat time-consuming, especially when compared to the kinds of state tests that have been administered in the past.”

Unlike the once-per-year Maryland assessments, PARCC tests will be administered twice during the school year. A performance-based assessment (PBA) will be given about three-quarters of the way through, followed by an end-of-year (EOY) test. Each test will be administered in multiple sessions ranging from 40 – 85 minutes each, depending on grade level and subject matter.

Here’s a description of the math tests from PARCC:

“…PBAs at each grade level will include both short- and extended-response questions focused on conceptual knowledge and skills, and the mathematical practices of reasoning and modeling. The mathematics EOY assessments will be comprised primarily of short-answer questions focused on conceptual knowledge, skills, and understandings.”

For English Language Arts/ Literacy, PARCC says:

“…PBAs at each grade level will include three tasks: a research simulation, a literary analysis, and a narrative task. For each task, students will be asked to read one or more texts, answer several short comprehension and vocabulary questions, and write an essay that requires them to draw evidence from the text(s). The ELA/Literacy EOYs at each grade level will include 4-5 texts, both literary and informational (including social science/historical, scientific, and technical texts at grades 6-11). A number of short-answer comprehension and vocabulary questions will also be associated with each text.”

If you’re feeling smarter than a fifth grader, some sample questions in both subjects can be found here.

PARCC tests are expected to be taken on a computer, although the states can allow paper and pencil testing for some schools.

In response to questions from The Dagger about whether Harford County Public Schools has the necessary bandwidth and enough computers for the new tests, Drew Moore, HCPS director of technology, said through a spokesperson that evaluations of capacity are in progress, based on the specifications for computer-based testing provided most recently by PARCC. He said that refinements to the specifications were also expected from MSDE over the next six months.

The bottom line for students in Maryland, according to Reinhard, is that the new tests will provide better information about their progress, measured against higher expectations:

“The PARCC summative tests will address all of the Common Core Standards, which are broader and more rigorous than current Maryland standards. They also will provide valid and reliable scores for all students across a range of ability. As a result, longer assessment with more items is a consequence of those objectives.

From these new assessments will come more information that teachers, parents – and students – can actually use.”

Below is the estimated time on task released by PARCC, broken down by grade level and by session for the new exams in both subjects. PARCC may make revisions to the estimates based on field tests over the next 18 months. PARCC notes that extra time will be available for students with disabilities in accordance with their Individualized Education Plans, with more guidance to be released later this year.


    • THE Teacher says

      That will cost significantly more money and instructional time. Where is the money going to come from? The RTTT funding is grant money, which will not be provided every year.

      Well-loved. Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
      • Teacher says

        But….because they are done on the computer, we won’t have to pay to print the books, scan the books, ship the books back and forth, etc.

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  1. Ugh! says

    Yay! A New test ~ The Best Thing since sliced bread! No wait, That was the MSA’s…

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2
    • AbingdonTeacher says

      With changing standards comes new assessments that are aligned with the standards. MSAs were assessments aligned to the “Voluntary State Curriculum”. Since the state is moving to the Common Core Standards, the MSAs are no longer aligned with the end goal.

      Would you rather complain about having a new test or that the old test doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to?

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  2. smart spending says


    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8
    • AbingdonTeacher says

      Please spend some time reading about the PARCC assessments. Their main goal is to force students to think critically just as you have complained about in your post. Check out the sample questions. These tests will be a big step up in rigor and critical thinking over the current HSAs and MSAs.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5
    • nicole stevenson says

      I am tired of these tests. I agree they do not measure students ability to think and reason. These tests are just money makers for individuals and businesses. America needs to stop competing with foreign nations and return to the kind of American education that produced great doctors, lawyers, engineers, writers and educators. When I was in school testing was used to help teachers and students. Now these test are being used to take tenure away from teachers and convince students they are dumb. There are some students who have had excellent grades in school but can’t pass the exit test. Does it mean they are dumb and shouldn’t graduate? No, what is means is that schools need to use other things other than a test to evaluate students. Practice what you preach to teachers.

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  3. smart spending says

    Abingdon teacher, You have bought in to the junk being sold just like most of the others… The word “rigor” is the system’s buzz word of the year. Every year it is a different load of BS but in the end the kids need the same thing they’ve needed for thousands of years. No new test, whiteboard, activote, LCD projector, or Common Core is going to solve the problem of placing the kids in the appropriate classes for their learning ability and challenging them to be the best that they can be on an individual basis. All of this new junk is just a waste of time and money. The sad part is they get good teachers such as yourself to buy into this time wasting propaganda when you could be inspiring creative thinking in the classroom.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 8
    • AbingdonTeacher says

      Thank you for your complement of my teaching ability.

      Take some time and actually read the sample questions for these assessments. They are MUCH harder than anything that has been put in front of our students in the past (aside from AP and IB tests).

      Here is a link to some sample questions from the 10th grade Math portion:

      While I agree the word rigor can often be misused as a buzz word, it definitely has a place here. These new assessments demand a higher level of learning in order to be successful. Trust me, it’s making some (not all) teachers uncomfortable because they will have to adjust and change the way they do things. Some of that discomfort manifests in complaints about buzz words and stupid tests and why do I need to change…. blah blah blah

      For the majority of teachers like me that wish to be pushed and want our students to perform at the highest levels, these new standards are a welcome addition. They ask more of our students, which in turn asks more of us.

      Bring it on :)

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4
        • AbingdonTeacher says

          the PARCC assessments are designed to measure growth from the beginning of the year to the end. a much better way to judge what kind of impact a teacher has on their students than the current MSAs and HSAs. it won’t be perfect, but its a step in the right direction for sure.

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          • Kharn says

            Except it relies on last year’s end-of-year testing as a baseline for that student, neglecting to consider how much students forget over the summer. Instead, the students should be tested on the first day of school, a mid-point and the last day. It would also be interesting to see how their scores change between the last test and the first test of the next year on similar questions.

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          • AbingdonTeacher says

            i agree, somewhat. the PARCC won’t be perfect, but it’s better than what we have. I would like a test within the first month of school as a baseline, and then the end-of-year setup. I don’t think testing 3 times during the year like you have stated is feasible or necessary. A majority of our curriculums have benchmark assessments which provided teachers with the data within the school year to mark progress. A school-wide mid-year testing would just be too much of a hassle to try and pull off.

            The larger issue with the PARCC testing is going to be with infrastructure. Physical computer stations and bandwith for students in grade 3-11 to take these assessments at the same time just doesn’t exist. Science MSAs (which are administered on the computer) at the middle school level can take as much as 3 weeks to complete in some schools because of available computer space.

            It will be interesting to see how the district responds to this part of the process.

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          • Kharn says

            How much bandwidth are the tests going to need? It does not sound like the test consists of watching videos for hours on end. The number of computer stations could be a problem, but simple text traffic (even if via secure server) shouldn’t bog down a commercial line.

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          • another teacher says

            Abingdon Teacher, Here is how the school system will pay for all this additional technology hardware and infrastructure to support these new tests – another 100 teachers loose their jobs. Your class size(s) explode and now because you are unable to give the needed attention to individual students their measured growth suffers resulting to lower test scores. Because of poor student growth your teaching is suspect and you will be placed on a plan of assistance and in two years will be fired. And why do you need to be pushed to want your students to do better on tests, shouldn’t that be an intrinsic motivation on you part?

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    • Change The System!!! says

      If only administrivia actually knew what rigor really means and how to actually help teachers achieve it…

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
      • AbingdonTeacher says

        a good portion of them do, but a lot of what they provide falls on deaf ears. Education is a dynamic field, especially in the 21st century. We unfortunately have teachers that can’t, or won’t, deal with the dynamic nature of our profession. You simply can’t do what you did 20 years ago and expect success. We teach drastically different types of students, who deman different types of teaching.

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    • AbingdonTeacher says

      in the immediate timeframe, HSAs will stay for now. In future years that may change.

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  4. hcpsgrad says

    “Thank you for your complement of my teaching ability.”

    I think you mean “compliment”

    Well-loved. Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
  5. Kharn says

    Will poor performance on the PARCC be sufficient to retain a student, or will social promotion/graduation continue?

    Well-loved. Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
    • AbingdonTeacher says

      As far as I know, those details have not been shared with us as teachers, but I would assume the data would be used the same way it is now. I just think we will be better informed.

      The social promotion/graduation conundrum is not as cut and dry as you sometimes portray. I won’t deny that I’ve had students move on that really shouldn’t, but it’s not normally on a whim. Their are multiple factors involved. It’s frustrating for sure, but sometimes we lack any other options.

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  6. Fred says

    Mr. Buzz states we cannot have a 18 yearold 6ft 200lb 8th grader. Kid won’t dropout? promote him!! Job complete everyone Happy Happy!
    To the teachers: You are appreciated by the public! We are not the Government!

    Well-loved. Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
  7. K says

    Boy, it will be interesting to see how the 11th grader’s score. They have been taking nonrigorous, completely conceptually different type tests through their whole academic careers. Now some person/group with an ulterior motive decides we need all the public school students in the whole country to take the same tests. If this isn’t government gone wild then…..

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  8. Teacher says

    As a teacher who has been trying to begin to implement the Common Core as much as possible this year, I can say it is a breath of fresh air. Rather than isolate skills, kids have to use skills simultaneously which is much closer to the real world. Students have to consider multiple sources, synthesize and evaluate information within those sources, and then write/argue coherently.

    For MSA, students were required, even at the middle school level, to “write” 3-4 sentence responses. Scoring was only on content; students were not held accountable for language, extraneous information, style, organization, etc. Is 3-4 sentences really all we expect from upper middle schoolers? Lots of kids scored advanced because they can write 3-4 sentences but could not organize, let alone write, an essay. Many teachers were happy to just do BCR’s because they were shorter and took MUCH less time to grade than essays.

    With PARCC, students are required to write actual essays which are scored not only for content but the additional criteria MSA did not score for. Teachers, if they want their students to do well, are going to HAVE to start teaching them to write more extended pieces. Especially if their evaluation is tied to students progress, they have no choice but to raise their level of expectations.

    I totally agree that “rigor” has become a meaningless buzz word or code for “just give them more work and it is rigor.” Following the Common Core raises the rigor not in workload but in actual thinking skills required.

    Before anyone says I am a Pollyanna or brainwashed, I will let you know I was NOT a fan of MSA at all. The test did not assess everything we taught because the state standards were well over 100. I already mentioned my opinion of the writing required of students was already mentioned. The texts were “pre-fab” (written specifically for standardized testing) while on PARCC the texts will be authentic pieces of literature.

    While I do not think the Common Core or PARCC will cure all the ills of education, I do think it is a step in raising the skill level of our students and the expectations of teachers.

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  9. Reality says

    Public Education is dying a slow death and no new testing method will change that. Maryland being ranked #1 in a country that is #17 in the world is like saying your the smartest unintelligent person ever! we spend more on education per student and what does it get you…I don’t blame the teachers…I blame politians and unions looking out for their own interests instead of students. and Maryland’s rankings are based off of what standards? the bar is set pretty low….

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    • SickasWell says

      all the thumbs down must be parents and teachers happy with the system…what a shame. wonder why charter schools are so popular? can’t wait till this generation of students to realize they were screwed growing up

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  10. a parent says

    More time testing means less time teaching and therefore learning. These standardized tests mean nothing. In the end, what does it mean if they didn’t pass them? These tests provoke needless stress on the students and does not prove anything. Providing actual education and testing of the taught material is needed. Teachers should have more time teaching. By not mandating these tests is one way to provide more teaching time as well as to better organize the school calendar.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
    • Kharn says

      One problem is that the tests are not always based on the same material as being taught in the classroom, so the teacher has to spend time “teaching the test.” If the tests were relevant to the class and grade level, they would be more useful. I think the best example of a properly focused test is Government/Civics in high school, the students take the test after completing an entire course on the subject, so they’re well versed on the subject.

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  11. Reggie says

    And in 5 years, this will be a distant memory and we will have wasted all of that time, effort, energy and cash. I often wonder how I received an education that led to a successful career without any of this type of nonsense.

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    • Jaguar Judy says

      Reggie, In five years we will be having the same discussion about yet another new and improved standardized testing methodology. But you do ask the key question. How did you receive an education that led to a successful career without all of the nonsense? But the high priests of education will not permit that kind of thinking. Reggie, the emperor indeed is naked.

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