Understanding PARCC Scores

What is the PARCC Test?

PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a common core aligned standardized test in math and English language arts administered in Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island.  In some states, passing the PARCC test is required to advance from one grade to the next.  Check with your local state guidelines for clarification. The PARCC test is a computerized assessment; the combined sections take between 8 and 9.5 hours to complete (grade level dependent).  The test is typically administered over a number of days.   


How can I prepare my child for the PARCC test?

I don’t believe that students should study for standardized tests.  Most schools spend a significant amount of time on test prep and “test taking skills.”  This is more than enough to let your child know what to expect on the test in terms of formatting, expectations, and other guidelines.  However, sample tests can also be found at http://www.parccoline.org/practice-tests

How is the PARCC scored?

Student performance on the PARCC test is described using scale scores, performance levels, and sub claim performance indicators.  

On the PARCC test, a scale score is a numeric value for student performance on the test.  Questions on the test receive different weight depending upon the difficulty of the question, so lower level questions receive less weight while more complex questions receive more weight.  A scale score is generated by assessing the questions a student answered correctly or incorrectly — right or wrong. Students receive separate scale scores for English Language Arts and Mathematics.  The scale score will range from 650 to 850.  Students will also receive sub scores for Reading (ranging from 10 to 90) and Writing (ranging from 10 to 60).  

In addition to a scale score, student performance on the PARCC is categorized according to five levels:

  • Level 1 (Did Not Yet Meet Expectations)
  • Level 2 (Partially Met Expectations)
  • Level 3 (Approached Expectations)
  • Level 4 (Met Expectations)
  • Level 5 (Exceeded Expectations.

These levels are not much different from other standardized tests that assess students as not proficient (NP), partially proficient (PP), proficient, and advanced proficient (AP).  According to PARCC, students scoring at Level 4 and 5 are ready for next grade level work.    

What does your child's PARCC score mean?

The PARCC test is a singular test — one data point to help you understand how your child is performing in math and language arts compared to students across the nation, throughout the state, and/or within their school.

My student scored lower on the PARCC than I expected. What factors might contribute to this?

The PARCC test is only one data point.  Many factors can contribute to lower than expected scores. 

Student performance on tests is dependent upon a student putting forth their best work and checking their answers.  Students that do not see a value in the test may be “disengaged” test takers; your child may have simply clicked through the test to reach the end as soon as possible. 

The PARCC Mathematics test does not simply test a student’s ability to answer a question correctly.  It also requires students to explain their answers and show their work in a specific manner. Students may answer a question correctly but only earn partial credit for failing to show their work in an appropriate manner. 

The PARCC ELA test asks students to read and analyze passages of text and videos.  Students answer multiple choice, open ended, and short answer questions.  Students with above grade level vocabularies may be tempted to answer vocabulary questions based on raw definitions rather than by using context clues.  Some gifted children have a tendency to overthink questions regarding the interpretation of literature too.  The PARCC ELA test does not assess reading level; your child’s ability to read and comprehend high level texts may not be adequately assessed on this test.  

My student was assessed at a Level 5 proficiency. They answered every question right and earned a scale score of 850 on both sections. Does this mean that we should explore grade skipping and/or acceleration?

The PARCC test is not a strong indicator for grade skipping and/or acceleration.  The PARCC test has a ceiling effect (see below), so it does not indicate whether your child can or should skip next year’s curriculum.  If your child earned a Level 5 proficiency, and this seems aligned with other grade level assessments, you can seek out above grade level testing and/or an adaptive assessment like the NWEA MAP for a more comprehensive view of your child’s knowledge, skills, and competencies.  

Does the PARCC test have a ceiling effect?

The PARCC  test is a grade-based test, so it does have a ceiling test.  Students only have the opportunity to prove that they know grade level material; the assessment does not test students on above grade level material.  As such, a student assessed at a Level 5 proficiency may know next year’s material or even the next several year’s material.  The PARCC test does not provide parents or teachers with any indication as to how far beyond the grade level material a student can reach.  
What should I do with my child’s PARCC score?

You don’t necessarily need to “do” anything with your child’s PARCC scores.  Some schools may look at PARCC scores when assessing eligibility for special education programs such as remedial education and/or gifted education.  This varies from one school district to the next.  Although your child’s school may administer this test, they may not necessarily “do” anything with it either. 

If your child consistently exceeds expectations on the PARCC test (Level 5 performance), and you feel that your child is not being adequately challenged in school, you may want to seek out above grade level testing and/or an academic evaluation to determine if acceleration is suitable for your child.  You may also want to explore private education opportunities such as enrichment classes and/or accelerated classes to provide your child with a stimulating learning opportunity.  

If your child is scoring very low on the PARCC test, and…


…you feel that this is not aligned with your child’s academic abilities, you may want to seek out additional testing IF your child’s school uses PARCC scores as a screening tool for acceleration, enrichment, class placement, grade advancement, or other opportunities.  

—you feel that this is aligned with your child’s performance, you may want to talk to the school and/or an outside center to determine a plan of action to get your child they help they need to succeed. 

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