The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aren’t the same as standardized testing. However, some states have developed tests to see if kids are meeting Common Core standards. These so-called “Common Core tests” are the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced).
The test accommodations for PARCC and Smarter Balanced are highly developed. If your child is taking one of these tests, here’s what you need to know.
PARCC and Smarter Balanced Tests
PARCC and Smarter Balanced are used by two different groups of states. Both are computer-based tests. They can be taken on many kinds of computers, including desktops, laptops and digital tablets. Schools often use Chromebooks as testing devices because they’re less expensive.
PARCC and Smarter Balanced are similar tests, but they differ in how questions are presented. PARCC gives students a fixed set of questions. Smarter Balanced uses computer adaptive testing. This means that if the student answers a question correctly, the next question will be harder. If the student answers incorrectly, the next question will be easier. The idea is to understand which skills a student has mastered.
Not all states use these Common Core tests. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia use the Common Core in schools, and 21 of these states use PARCC or Smarter Balanced.
Keep in mind that under federal law, all states must have standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Even if you live in a state without Common Core, your child will still be asked to take a state test.
Accommodations on Common Core Tests
The developers of PARCC and Smarter Balanced put a lot of thought into what features to offer. In the past, even computer-based tests needed to use external tools for accommodations. With the Common Core tests, these tools are built directly into the computer interface.
PARCC and Smarter Balanced have many built-in “universal” tools available to all students. Here’s a sample of what these universal tools let students do:
Look up the meaning of words with a dictionary or glossary
Check word spellings
Take notes on a digital notepad
Make text bigger or smaller
Highlight and shade text
Cross out answers on multiple choice questions
The tests also have built-in accommodations for students with disabilities. Here are some of the available features:
In addition to the built-in universal tools and accommodations, the tests allow certain outside accommodations. For instance, students may be able to get headphones or a quiet testing room. They might be able to ask for physical scratch paper or even an abacus to help with math.
How to Get Accommodations on Common Core Tests
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, the school is required by law to address what accommodations he gets on state tests. This includes tests like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. In the IEP or 504 plan, there must be a list of test accommodations.
It’s important to talk with the IEP team or the school about these accommodations. And if your child has a test accommodation, make sure he’s using it in the classroom. If your child sees an accommodation for the first time on test day, he may be confused.
Keep in mind that having too many tools or accommodations on a test can be distracting. So you may want to talk with the school about which features to turn on and which features to turn off.
Generally, if your child has an accommodation in an IEP or a 504 plan, he’ll get that accommodation on the Common Core tests. (Or on any state test, for that matter.) There are exceptions, however.
Some states don’t allow accommodations that could defeat the purpose of a question. For instance, if a question is testing whether a student can add two numbers, the state may not allow calculators. And some states don’t allow read-aloud or text-to-speech on questions that test decoding or reading comprehension. These are tricky issues that are best discussed with your school.