PARCC’s New Sample Items Grade 5 – technology skills required!

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The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has released new sample items for the 5th grade summative (end of the year) assessment. There are two passages used and each sample test item has a Part A and Part B. You have to use the answer from Part A to think about an answer for Part B. The skills focus is on main idea, supporting details, and vocabulary. I don’t think the skills being assessed are any surprise for teachers. It’s the technology that worries me – especially for students in schools and communities where access to learning on computers is still limited.

Quick overview and a few thoughts –

  • THE TEXTS – The first of two passages is an article Life in the Limbs from an on-line magazine for kids. It’s about Jonathan Fairoaks who builds tree houses that people actually live in. If you go to the original article on-line, it’s fascinating stuff – with stunning pictures. BUT, for PARCC, all visuals (and color) are extracted from the article. This is kind of a bummer because it detracts from the aesthetic appeal of the article (which PARCC claims it’s taken into consideration or at least they’ve considered “engagement”) and detracts from the value of features in supporting the author’s ideas. The second text is a “sidebar” (according to PARCC). It’s an interview with Pete Nelson who also builds tree houses. At the beginning of the test page (in a box) there are directions – “Read the article Life in the Limbs. Then answer the questions.”  There’s no mention of the presence of the sidebar (which has a different title) or its purpose. And the reader has to guess who “Jack,” the interviewer is. I only made sense of this by looking on-line – I think it was an article in the Jack and Jill Magazine. Both texts may have been in the magazine. What’s missing is layout and design with features which I think is important – it makes the reading appealing, but it also serves to make the pairing of the two texts coherent. In the end, I think PARCC’s approach works – but it could be better.
  • SAMPLE ITEM 1 – Part A of this question assesses understanding of a vocabulary word – “dictate” and then Part B asks the student to identify which (from a list) of the quotes from the text give clues about the meaning of this word. Interesting that in Part A, the student is asked “What is the meaning of the word dictate in paragraph 23?” Notice this question only tells the location of the word – it does not say that’s where a clue to its meaning may be. This might be confusing to some students – because the clue to the meaning of the word is actually in the previous paragraph (paragraph 22). This clue – “determine the shape” is also the answer to Part B which gives a list of quoted phrases from the text and asks which one is a clue to the meaning of dictate. In the end, this sample item does not seem unfamiliar – we’ve been testing vocabulary like this for ages.
  • SAMPLE ITEM 2 – Okay. This is where PARCC’s technology has advanced – beyond what we can do with a paper and pencil. Students are asked to identify two main ideas in the text and a supporting detail for each. This “technology enhanced constructed response” – TECR – requires students to click a choice of main idea and drag it to the main idea box in the chart below the question. Click and drag, folks. Are your students ready for this? Wait…it gets better. See Sample Item 4 notes below.
  • SAMPLE ITEM 3 –  Part A asks about the purpose of the “braces” in building tree houses and students simply choose one of the statements that follows. Then in Part B, the student is asked to choose two quotes from a list that are supporting details. Okay…no big deal.
  • SAMPLE ITEM 4Part A asks students to identify an idea (from a list) that is found in both the article and the sidebar. Then Part B requires students to identify a supporting detail in the text for the idea, using “hot spot” technology – “which allows chunks of text to be selectable” as students move their cursors over the text. While my daughter has been on a computer since she was three years old, this is just not the case for many of our students. And the cognitive load here is potentially daunting – the student has to reread the text, locate the supporting detail, and at the same time move a cursor to the right spot and click. Ugh. It’s not that this is bad or unnecessary. Just not sure it’s fair.

Am I overreacting????? Hmm…

Another note. Remember I wondered if there was a sexist issue when I blogged about the third grade sample test items?  The test authors refer to Eliza Scidmore by her first name but George Washington Carver by his last name? In both of the articles for 5th grade, the men are most frequently referred to by their first names – Jonathan and Pete, but in the test questions, they are referred to by their last names – Fairoaks and Nelson. Hmmm…

Okay…hope this helps.


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