PARCC Test: Students Find Math Tougher Than English/Language Arts

By Catherine Gewertz — November 26, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students who took the PARCC field test last spring reported having a much tougher time on the mathematics exam than on the English/language arts test.

According to a new report, released Wednesday, PARCC surveys show that only one-third of students who took the field test characterized the English/language arts test as “harder” than their schoolwork, while two-thirds said that about the math test. (Those figures were for the computer-based test, but the response proportions are similar for students who took the paper-based version.)

Another question on the survey tried to get at how well-aligned students felt the test was to what they had been taught in school. Only 16 percent of the students said that the English/language arts questions probed things they hadn’t learned in class. But more than three in 10 students said so about the math questions.

Despite the difficulty of the test, however, nearly all students reported that they had enough time to finish the test. Ninety-four percent said they had sufficient time to finish the English/language arts section, and 87 percent said they had sufficient time to finish the math. (The proportions were slightly higher for the paper version.)

The PARCC report offers a look back at how students and test administrators experienced the field test, with an eye toward improving and finalizing it for its debut this school year. More than 1 million students in 14 states and the District of Columbia participated in that “trial run” of test items last spring.

Based on the experience of the field test, PARCC found that 89 percent of its English/language arts items and 78 percent of its math items performed well enough to be included in the operational test. The rest will be improved or discarded. Assessment experts say that testmakers often anticipate that as many as half of the items in a field test will have to be discarded or revised.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium recently released its report on lessons it learned from field-testing. It found, among other things, that many students reported that the material on the test didn’t line up with their classroom instruction.

The PARCC report found a brighter picture when it came to many aspects of students’ experience using the technology in the computer-based exam. Approximately nine in 10 said they understood the test directions, and most found the technological tools easy to use. But once again, those answers uncovered more difficulty in math than in English/language arts.

Ninety-two percent of students said it was easy to move back and forth between text passages or stories in the English/language arts part of the test. More than six in 10 students said they found the highlighter tool easy to use in English/language arts, and only one-third didn’t use it.

When it came to math, though, the highlighter proved to be more of a challenge. Only about one-third of students found the highlighter easy to use, and nearly six in 10 didn’t use it. Similarly, one quarter of students reported that it was not easy to enter math symbols and numbers for their answers on the test, and another 8 percent didn’t use that feature. Fewer than half reported that the online calculator was easy to use; four in 10 didn’t use it.

PARCC is working on improving tutorials that will help students get more familiar with the test. They’re also working on improvements to the test administration manual, training modules, and other materials used by those who gave the assessments. Administrators reported that those materials could be clearer and more helpful.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.