Preparing for PARCC Part VI – How to Respond to PARCC Math Items

Preparing for PARCC Part VI
How to Respond to PARCC Math Items
“Direction Detective”

This post is part of our blog series on PARCC. In this series, we offer tips and strategies you can use to ensure that your students perform at their very best on the PARCC tests.

I asked students, “How does the new assessment compare to the previous assessment?” The most common response was “the new questions are challenging.”

I asked for more details about how they are challenging. “Thinking more” was the phrase many students used to describe the increased rigor and use of higher-level critical-thinking skills.

Here is how Common Core describes “rigor”: “The standards will include high-level cognitive demands by asking students to demonstrate deep conceptual understanding through the application of content knowledge and skills to new situations.” –

Increased rigor in the assessment is not just part of the question design and how PARCC measures understanding. It’s also part of how the student is required to provide their answers. Advancements in assessment delivery via technology contribute to this rigor. Consider the critical thinking needed to consider all the possible ways to express a number verses identifying just one way to express a number:

Features to Emphasize in the PARCC Assessment Items

The PARCC assessment features new technology-enhanced items in two categories:

Constructed Response: The student constructs the answer. This could be a single number, an expression, equation or inequality, a completed mathematical model, or a combination of words and math.

Selected Response:A selection of possible responses are provided; the student selects the correct response(s). There are at least seven different styles of these items, including: Drag and Drop, Multiple Select, Multiple Choice, Drop-Down Menus, Sort by Category, Reorder the selections.

A PARCC assessment item is more than a standard math question. Each item has specific directions that describe how the student should provide the answer. Here is a short list of the various directions provided with PARCC practice items:

Drag and drop the fractions and operation symbols.You may select more than one box for each figure.Select the correct symbol from each drop down menu.Enter your answer in the space provided.Which explanation about the figures is correct your fraction.statements that correctly describe….that apply.

Because each assessment item has its own unique directions, students need to become a…

How to Become a Direction Detective

When practicing with the PARCC Practice Test, students need to use the When students practice math in the classroom, students should use a highlighter to decipher the directions for any task. Allow the student to do this independently and then check for understanding by asking the student to state the directions in his or her own words.

  • Incorporate similar styles of questions and accompanying directions in the tasks used in the classroom. If the direction sentences are commonplace, they become familiar.
  • Ask students to recognize what error(s) can occur when the directions are ignored.Standards Solution and Inspired Instruction offer 540 PARCC lesson plans, online PARCC-like assessments with technology-enhanced items, PARCC workshops, and PARCC demonstration lessons.


Inspired Instruction, LLC provides the highest quality professional development and PARCC preparation services. We would love to help your teachers and students do their best in preparing for PARCC and beyond. Please contact Judy Cataldi for more information. or call 908-223-7202

Standards Solution Holding, LLC is not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc.


By |2018-02-23T16:39:18+00:00February 22nd, 2018|PARCC Prep|0 Comments

Preparing for PARCC Part IV – Aligning Mathematics Instructional Practices


Preparing for PARCC Part IV
Aligning Mathematics Instructional Practices


This post is part of our blog series on PARCC. In this series, we offer tips and strategies you can use to ensure that your students perform at their very best on the PARCC tests.


Regardless of how you feel about PARCC, or any standardized test, I think we can all agree that at this moment it is necessary to prepare our students for the experience. And to be honest, I don’t think that preparing for PARCC is a waste of instruction time. PARCC is a test that evaluates students’ progress toward college and career readiness. It is a test of our students’ competence regarding the Common Core State Standards. Therefore, when we are preparing students for PARCC we are applying and practicing the Common Core. That is what we are supposed to do.

But what does a fully aligned mathematics classroom look like?

“The PARCC assessments are aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and were created to measure students’ ability to apply their knowledge of concepts rather than memorizing facts.” (NJDOE)

The mathematics PARCC assessments require students to:

  • Solve problems using mathematical reasoning
  • Be able to model mathematical principles

What Is Mathematical Reasoning?

According to G.W. Martin, et al., “Reasoning can be thought of as the process of drawing conclusions on the basis of evidence or stated assumptions…Sense making can be defined as developing an understanding of a situation, context, or concept by connecting it with existing knowledge.” (Martin, G.W. and Kasmer, L. “Reasoning and Sense” Mathematics Teacher Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010).

The ability to reason is essential to understanding mathematics. Teachers should use effective questioning techniques to promote their students’ reasoning abilities. Students need opportunities to respond to effective questions that require critical thinking, and to share ideas and clarify their understanding. When students are able to connect mathematical ideas, they develop a deeper and lasting understanding of mathematics. The process of reasoning has three stages: conjecture, generalization, and justification.

The Process of Reasoning

  • Conjecturing: developing statements that are tentatively thought to be true but are not known to be true
  • Generalizing: extending the reasoning beyond the scope of the original problem
  • Justification: a logical argument based on already-understood ideas

Types of Reasoning Tasks

  • Proof and Justification Tasks: Students are asked to use reasoning to provide an argument for why a proposition is true or is not true.
    • Example: the student draws a comparison between two fractions and provides proof that the comparison is true, using a mathematical model.
  • Critiquing Tasks: Flawed reasoning is presented and students are asked to correct and improve it. Example: the student reviews an answer created by a fictitious student and must identify and explain possible flaw(s)in the reasoning, correct the answer, and provide an explanation supporting the correct reasoning and answer.
  • Mathematical Investigations: Students are presented with a problem and invited to formulate conjectures and prove one of their conjectures.
    • Example: the student tests an idea, such as, “Is it always true that when two fractions are multiplied, the product is less than the two fractions?”

Modeling in Mathematics

Concrete models and pictorial models can be used to demonstrate the meaning of a mathematical idea and/or communicate the application of mathematics to solve a real-world problem.

“Students can develop a conceptual understanding of mathematics through modeling, following a progression of representations: concrete, pictorial, and abstract.”
(Strategies for Successful Learning, Vol. 6, No. 2, January 2013)

Concrete representation is often demonstrated with manipulatives. Pictorial representation can be various drawings, such as graphs, number lines, object drawings, Ten Frames, and visual fraction models. Abstract representation is the use of numbers, letters and symbols to represent the mathematics.

Considerthese examples of the three types of representation:

“There are three times as many cats as dogs; there are 15 dogs. How many cats are there?”

In the Common Core State Standards, each grade level addresses distinct operations and number relationships.


Here is a list of the distinct operations and/or number relationships for grades 2 through 6:

  • Grade 2: addition and subtraction
  • Grade 3: multiplication and division
  • Grade 4–6: fractions and ratios

The operations and number relationships are developed sequentially, to allow students to visualize and solve increasingly complex problems. Solving for an unknown quantity at the concrete and pictorial stages aids in the transition to the abstract.

Mathematical Methods and Representations within the Standards

Many of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics are very specific about which methods and representations need to be used to develop understanding of the mathematical concept(s).

To demonstrate this, let’s examine a grade 4 Standard:

Multiply a whole number of up to four digits by a one-digit whole number, and multiply two two-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value and the properties of operations. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.

The main concept is multi-digit multiplication; the specific digits are provided. The methods are place value strategies and properties of operations (commutative, associative, distributive). The representations are equations, rectangular arrays, and area models. The standard states the specificity clearly; the expectation is that classroom instruction would include the specificity as stated. What could this look like?

An example of an equation that demonstrates place value and properties of operations:

3 x 27 = 3 (20 + 7)

A rectangular array can be demonstrated using a manipulative, such as tiles or base-ten blocks, with a place-value mat.

An example of an array model:

The PARCC assessment is closely aligned to the Common Core State Standards. When considering classroom instruction and the students’ demonstration of understanding, the specificity of the Standards cannot be ignored. Since the students are expected to reason mathematically and use modeling to represent mathematics on the PARCC assessment, they need opportunities to communicate reasoning and provide modeling in classroom tasks.

It is our sincerest wish that you find value in these ideas and resources and begin to integrate the concepts that students will experience on PARCC. Please let us know if we can help you make your classroom or school more fully aligned with the Common Core and PARCC.


Inspired Instruction offers 540 PARCC lesson plans, online PARCC-like assessments with technology-enhanced items, PARCC workshops, and PARCC demonstration lessons.

Please contact Judy Cataldi for more information: or call 908-223-7202

Standards Solution Holding, LLC is not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc.

By |2018-02-12T15:37:08+00:00February 5th, 2018|PARCC Prep|0 Comments

Preparing for PARCC Part III – Using PARCC Writing Rubrics continued

Using PARCC Writing Rubrics to Inform Instruction:
Creating a Corrective Instruction Plan

This post is part of our blog series on PARCC. In this series, we offer tips and strategies you can use to ensure that your students perform at their very best on the PARCC tests.

Last year, PARCC posted their writing rubrics for the Prose-Constructed Response (PCR) and then revised them this past July.

In the first post, we discussed how instructors can score their students’ essays by creating item-specific guides. And we stressed that the only reason we assess students is to identify their strengths and needs, which in turn enables us to provide corrective instruction. In this post, we’ll show you how to analyze students’ needs and create a corrective instruction plan to address these needs.

Analyzing Student Results

  • Use the Analyzing Student Essays form and identify your students’ needs.
  • Based upon your analysis, what is your class’s greatest need in relationship to constructing an on-demand LAT or RST?
  • Which students performed exceptionally well? What was special about their essays?
  • Which students displayed the greatest needs? What are their needs and how will you provide corrective instruction?

Consider Your Classes’ Needs

  • What did you discover when you reviewed your classes’ essays?  Below are some common needs:
  • Students answered the prompt, but wrote an open-ended question response instead of an essay.
  • Students did not write an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement.
  • Students’ essays lacked structure and organization.
  • Students did not respond to all parts of the PCR prompt.
  • Students provided evidence but did not link it to the reasons, topic sentences, and/or major claim.
  • Students did not finish in time.

Create a Corrective Instruction Plan

Use the Corrective Instruction Plan in this section. Based upon your findings, what activities will you implement to address each class’s greatest needs?  Moreover, what is your plan for providing assistance to individual students? Click on the links to access suggested activities.

  • Deconstructing Essays
  • Honing Understanding of Evidence
  • Creating Advanced Arguments
  • Creating Rubrics
  • Selecting Literature
  • Constructing PCRs

In this two-part blog, Using PARCC Rubrics, we learned:

  • How to create item-specific guides
  • How to score our students’ LAT and RST essays
  • How to analyze our students’ results
  • How to provide corrective instruction to address student needs

Standards Solution and Inspired Instruction offers 540 PARCC lesson plans, online PARCC-like assessments with technology-enhanced items, PARCC workshops, and PARCC demonstration lessons.

Please contact Judy Cataldi for more information. or call 908-223-7202

Standards Solution Holding, LLC is not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc.

By |2018-02-11T17:26:42+00:00January 29th, 2018|PARCC Prep|0 Comments

Preparing for PARCC Part II – Using PARCC Writing Rubrics

Using PARCC Writing Rubrics 
to Inform Instruction:
Scoring Student Essays



This post is part of our blog series on PARCC. In this series, we offer tips and strategies you can use to ensure that your students perform at their very best on the PARCC tests.

Last year, PARCC posted their writing rubrics for the Prose-Constructed Response (PCR) and then revised them this past July. However, since each writing task is unique and the rubrics are generic, to make good use of these rubrics you must create item-specific guides that qualify the range of student responses.

You can create item-specific guides to score your students’ on-demand writing samples. These guides will give you an idea of which writing skills you should focus on to help students improve their writing.

First, we need a thorough understanding of PARCC’s generic rubrics, and then we must identify the item-specific information related to each prompt. There are three components to PARCC’s generic rubric: Reading Comprehension – Comprehension of Key Ideas and Details; Writing – Written Expression; and Writing – Knowledge of Language and Conventions. Below is a list of student expectations for each category.

Reading Comprehension

  • Students must include evidence of understanding, including direct references and inferences.
  • Students need to link perspective (“analysis”) to specific evidence.
Written Expression
  • Students must respond to all parts of the prompt.
  • Students must develop a claim or topic with reasons and textual evidence.
  • Students must write in the specified discipline (narrative, essay, etc.).
  • Students must write in a style and organization effective for the conventions of the discipline.
Written Conventions
  • Students must demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English.
  • Students need to write enough so that scorers can properly assess their command of standard English conventions.


The first step in creating the task-specific rubric is to survey your students’ essays. Task-specific rubrics are constructed using student responses and by identifying expected conditions for each category of the generic rubric. Use Standards Solution’s Item-Specific Considerations to set the expectations for each category.

Now that you have considered every element of the rubric, return to your students’ essays and use the rubric and your item specific guide to identify strengths and areas of need.


For responses to the Literary Analysis Task and Research Simulation Task, three dimensions are scored for a total of 19 points (15 for grade 3)
  • Reading: worth up to 4 points
  • Written Expression: worth up to 12 points*
  • Knowledge of Language and Conventions: worth up to 3 points
*When determining the score for Written Expression, the scorer first determines the holistic score (4, 3, 2, 1, 0) based on which score point best describes that
paper. Then that score (4, 3, 2, 1, 0) is multiplied by three. This means that only certain scores can be represented (12, 9, 6, 3, 0). This is true for both rubrics.
Scoring Process
  • Use the rubric and your item specific guide to review each essay.
  • Score Reading Comprehension.
  • Consider the elements to Written Expression and score accordingly:
    • Did the student write an essay that addresses all parts of the prompt?
    • Did the student provide a claim with reasons and evidence?
    • Was the student’s essay organized and effective for the given genre?
  • Remember to consider the holistic nature of the essay when selecting point values for Written Expression and remember to multiply by three.
  • For the Writing – Knowledge of Language and Conventions category, points should only be deducted when the errors impede meaning.


Remember, the purpose of evaluating our students is to help them improve their abilities. In our next post, we’ll describe how to analyze your students’ needs and provide corrective instruction.

Inspired Instruction offers 540 PARCC lesson plans, online PARCC-like assessments with technology-enhanced items, PARCC workshops, and PARCC demonstration lessons.

Please contact Judy Cataldi for more information. or call 908-223-7202

Standards Solution Holding, LLC is not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc

By |2018-02-06T14:09:43+00:00January 22nd, 2018|PARCC Prep|0 Comments

Preparing for PARCC Part I – The Six Step Process

The Six-Step Process for Completing the LATs and RSTs
This post is part of our blog serieson PARCC. In this series, we offer tips and strategies you can use to ensure that your students perform at their very best on the PARCC tests.

In this article, we’ll explain our six-step process for responding to the Prose-Constructed Response (PCR) prompt on PARCC’s Literary Analysis Tasks and Research Simulation Tasks. Students who follow these steps will have a great advantage on tackling the essay questions in these tasks.
These steps are meant to be followed after the student has read the prompt and texts at least once.
Step 1: Consider the Prompt
Too many educators assume that students read a prompt and just know what it’s asking them to do. But PARCC’s writing prompts can be startlingly easy to misread if one isn’t careful. Students should be taught how to analyze the prompts and then state in their own words what the prompt is requiring of them.

For an example, read the PARCC prompt below. A student may read it and think that she is only identifying the authors’ arguments. However, what she’s really being asked to do is analyze the
strength of the arguments.  

Step 2: Rewrite the Prompt as a Thesis Statement
Once the student understands what the prompt is asking her to write about, she is then ready to make a claim in the form of a thesis statement. A thesis statement can be constructed
following a simple formula: Restate the main idea of the prompt and then state your position. In the example below, I restate the crux of the prompt and state my position:
Step 3: Gather Evidence
Next, the student has to gather evidence to support her position from—and only from—the text, not from personal experience or from life at large. The box below displays quotations that the student gathered as possible evidence. She won’t use all of it, but she wants to gather enough so that she has enough to choose from. Because the prompt requires the student to evaluate the strengths of the arguments in each text, the student should collect all the evidence that mentions Earhart’s bravery or demonstrates it by describing her actions. Based on the evidence collected, a student may notice that her original thesis needs to be modified.
Step 4: Organize the Evidence and Construct the Outline
This step is most often the hardest. Writing a clear and organized essay is relatively straightforward when you have a good quality outline. Organizing your argument and evidence into a coherent whole is where the greatest challenge lies.
The outline should address each of the three major sections of an essay: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.
Here’s a useful way to organize each body paragraph:
A. Topic Sentence
B. Support
C. Explanation
D. Support
E. Explanation
F. Summary
G. Transition
With this order, the student ensures that she introduces the topic of each paragraph, offers enough support (textual evidence) for her thesis, and justifies the use of each individual piece of evidence. Ideas for transitions and summaries can be jotted down too, but they can also be left for the writing stage, when it will be easier to articulate them once the ideas for the body paragraph are expressed.
Here is a sample with two body paragraphs. The student should aim for specificity and simplicity. Sophisticated language is best left for the revision stage.
Step 5: Write the Essay
Once students understand the format of PARCC’s LATs and RSTs, the majority of classroom instruction should focus on improving the quality of students’ writing. Instruction should begin with the requirements of the task, followed by Steps 1 to 4 above. Once students have mastered the essay construct, instructors can assist students to write strong transitions between paragraphs, to make better word choices, and to write conclusions that leave the reader thinking.
Step 6: Revise, Edit and Proofread
The last step should be taught using explicit directions. Instructors often tell students to revise and edit their essays but don’t explain what or how students should do so. One method that worked well for my students when I was a teacher was to give them an editing checklist, catered to the specific prompt the students were writing from. After students finish their drafts, direct them to go down the list and confirm that they have each item or add the items they don’t have.
Equipped with this six-step process, students will be able to craft clear and organized essays for the PARCC RST and LAT. Practice this process several times throughout the year, so that by testing time your students are clear on what steps they should take to complete the Prose-Constructed Response.
Standards Solution and Inspired Instruction offer 540 PARCC lesson plans, online PARCC-like assessments with technology-enhanced items, PARCC workshops, and PARCC demonstration
Please contact Judy Cataldi for more information: or call 908-223-7202.

Standards Solution Holding, LLC is not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc.

By |2018-02-09T21:25:20+00:00January 15th, 2018|PARCC Prep|0 Comments

The Healthy Way to Prepare for PARCC: Using PARCC’s ELA Resources


One may think that being aligned with the test content is synonymous with being aligned with the Standards. But this is not the case. How can one test evaluate students’ acquisition of all
of the Standards? PARCC assesses a good many of the Standards, but cannot address all of them. For instance, PARCC assesses three vocabulary concepts within the Reading Standards (context clues, denotation vs. connotation, and identifying the meaning of unknown words) but none of the Language Standards (Exception: Students are evaluated on grammar and mechanics in the writing tasks.)

Instructors can better understand how PARCC assesses any given ELA Standard by reviewing the PARCC Evidence Tables for Reading and Writing.

Paired Texts

One way that PARCC assesses the Standards is to utilize paired passages. Besides creating thematic units of study, using paired or companion texts is a relatively new concept in the study of English language arts. Instructors can hone their understanding of how and why one should use paired text by using PARCC’s Passage Selection Guidelines (Information about selecting paired or multiple texts begins on page 11). Below is a list of reasons (paraphrased from the PARCC guidelines) why PARCC uses paired passages.

  1. Compare literary elements, such as theme.
  2. Compare central ideas, topics, and/or events (including same event and point of view) in two or more informational texts.
  3. Compare and/or analyze different versions of the same text (literature or informational texts).
  4. Analyze how ideas are transformed from one text to another literary or informational text.
  5. Integrate information for a purpose.
  6. Compare text structures.
  7. Analyze supplemental elements.

Text Complexity

Another way to align instructional practice with PARCC’s content is to ensure that the level of text complexity is similar to PARCC’s as well as the Standards’. For a more complete understanding of measuring text complexity instructors can review the Common Core’s Appendix A.

To measure text complexity, PARCC uses two worksheets:

If instructors are still unsure about how to use these worksheets they can refer to the Passage Selection Guidelines for more detail.


PARCC is novel in their test-taking design. PARCC (and most of the new online state tests) utilize something call a technology-enhanced item (TEI). According to PARCC’s glossary of terms, “TEIs are items administered on a computer and take advantage of the computer-based environment to present situations and capture responses in ways that are not possible on a paper-based test.” Students need practice with this format so that navigating these items becomes second nature.

Fortunately, PARCC provides practice tests that can be taken online or as paper-and-pencil tests.

This year, instructors can also use PARCC’s released samples from the Spring 2014-2015 testing, which is provided for grades three through eleven (released test items).


There are many ways that instructors can help students to perform at their personal best on any standardized test. One of those strategies is to help students understand the test construct and to develop personal strategies in relationship to the test item requirements. An example of this is to teach students how to score the writing tasks for the NWTs, LATs and RSTs. When students learn how to score essays, theirs and others, they become acutely aware of what’s expected out of their own essays. (See Scoring Rubrics: grade 3grades 4-5, grades 6-11 .)

PARCC also provides scored student samples with annotations of their scoring rationale. PARCC’s annotated released samples are for the Reading Comprehension and Written Expression portion of the rubric. Also, PARCC provides separate samples on each grade level for the Language and Conventions portion of the rubric.

Sample releases can be accessed on PARCC’s Partnership Resource Center.

Creating EBSRs and TECRs

Lastly, another strategy to assist students with PARCC is to replicate the structure of the test items in daily work. One way to do this is to use PARCC’s Evidence-Based Selected Responses (EBSRs) and Technology-Enhanced Constructed Responses (TECRs) with classroom literature.

Two PARCC resources can be used to assist with this process. One document is the scoring guide for PARCC’s EBSRs and TECRs. With this document instructors know how to score their student results.

And another more complex document is called the Item Guidelines for ELA/Literacy PARCC Summative Assessment. Within this document are specifications on how PARCC creates EBSR and TECR items.

Below are PARCC’s recommendations for creating these items.

EBSR and TECR Questions

Good text dependent questions will often linger over specific phrases and sentences to ensure careful comprehension of the text—they help students see something worthwhile that they would not have seen on a more cursory reading.

An effective set of text dependent questions delves systematically into a text to guide students in extracting the key meanings or ideas found there.

They typically begin by exploring specific words, details, and arguments and then move on to examine the impact of those specifics on the text as a whole.

Along the way they target academic vocabulary and specific sentence structures as critical focus points for gaining comprehension.”

EBSR and TECR Distractors

The primary purpose of a distractor is to provide evidence that a student is not able to meet the standard(s) assessed due to student misconceptions.

Distractors must be plausible responses to item stems.

Items should not use negative distractors (the exact opposite of the correct answer). The written style of all distractors in an item
should be similar to that of the correct response(s).

Answer responses (distractors) are not ordered alphabetically by first word or by short to long.

In Part B, when writing the distractors for evidences, all of the answer choices must be the same type of citation of evidence (e.g. all quotes or all paraphrases).

Particular care must be taken for Part B items, where students are asked to select evidence from the text such that distractor wording to achieve parallelism in style does not overly impose distractor wording.

All answer choices for Part B must be accurate/relevant/from the passage.”


At times educators speak about the ills of teaching to the test. PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and many of the state-created assessments are now a strong reflection of the Standards. We have to implement the Standards. But as pragmatic educators we should also consider how to assist our students with the specific experience, similar to the way we teach someone to play soccer and not just sports. PARCC has unique attributes. If we are to understand our student’s ability to implement the Standards on these high stakes tests, then we need to prepare them for this test in particular, and not tests in general.


By |2018-02-09T21:25:34+00:00January 10th, 2018|PARCC Prep|0 Comments