Fine Print: PARCC Draft Curriculum Frameworks

John Mooney | August 10, 2011 | Education
Public comment period opens on national frameworks for upcoming New Jersey testing

What it is: New Jersey has joined nearly two dozen other states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a consortium developing an assessment system to match the new national Common Core State Standards in math and language arts. PARCC released its draft frameworks of what those assessments would measure and what students should learn.

What it means: On the idea that teachers teach what is tested, this is the first look at what will be tested under the PARCC model. There is still a long way to go, with the assessments not expected to be online until 2014, at the earliest, and much work to be done in terms of design and development.

Public input wanted: The process includes a public comment period for which both institutions and individuals are invited to share their thoughts. Local districts were notified of the frameworks last week and urged to review them. The public comment period, complete with an online survey is open until August 17.

A new kind of assessment: One of two national models that states are pursuing, the PARCC assessments change the rules on standardized testing as we know it. The assessments would be given four times over the course of a school year, as compared with the current one-time testing in New Jersey, and many would be administered online. The aim is to provide timelier information to teachers and districts to actually adjust their teaching.

“Big ideas” vs. big document: The PARCC announcement of the framework said it will focus on the “big ideas” that it hopes teachers will pay attention to for each grade, hoping to drive both instruction and professional development. But the frameworks indeed get into the minutia, 162 pages of it.

Close reading starts young: For example, among the language arts standards is the goal that students be able to write based on information derived from written text, starting in fourth grade. That requires the ability not just to read, but read closely for information and tone. The frameworks for fourth grade help flesh that out, and explain how that will be assessed, including for vocabulary.

“Comprehending complex texts: This master competency requires students to read and comprehend a range of grade-level complex texts, including texts they encounter in the domains of ELA, science, history/social studies, technical subjects, and the arts. Because vocabulary is a critical component of reading comprehension, it will be assessed in the context of reading passages”

By graduation: The frameworks go up to 11th-12th grade, and this isn’t light stuff. But it follows the same notion of being able to write based on close reading of specific texts, just ramping up their complexity.

“The balance of student writing at this level is 80 percent analytical (40 percent argument and 40 percent to explain/inform) and 20 percent narrative with a mix of on-demand and review-and-revision writing assignments (building student competence and confidence with technology should be part of instruction).”

“Routine writing: Routine writing is for building content knowledge about a topic or reflection on a specific aspect of a text or texts (including short constructed-response answers to focused questions that require textual help lead to informed discussions). Routine written responses to such text-dependent questions allow students to build sophisticated understandings of vocabulary, text structure, and content and to develop needed proficiencies in analysis.

“Four to six analyses: All analytic writing should put a premium on using evidence, as well as on crafting works that display a high degree of logical integration and coherence. As students will be assessed on their ability to draw sufficient evidence from the text and to write clearly and coherently, these elements should be part of instruction. Analytic writing should include at least one comparative analysis and one paper incorporating research that focuses on texts that students have read closely.”