PARCC Online

UPDATE March 6, 2014:

I had a moment to check the PARCC website today while eating lunch, and saw that the sample test questions appear to once again be available “in their intended environment.”  

I urge you to go try them out for yourselves.  


UPDATE March  4, 2014:

I went to try the assessments on the PARCC website again this morning.  I discovered that although they still have webpages (linked below) that say that these materials are available to be tried, when I tried them I was taken to a page to download an iPad app.  I downloaded the app, but I cannot run it without a username and a password, which I don’t have.  I tried using “guest” and received an error message.  There was also an option to bypass the iPad app download page and proceed online, so I tried that as well.  When I did so, I was again taken to a login page, and prompted for a username and password.  I again tried “guest” and was booted.  As a result, it does not appear that as of now, other members of the public can replicate the experience we had with these materials this weekend.  If they are fixing the problems, more power to them, I say.  

I clicked on the “Contact Us” tab on PARCC’s webpage, and sent an email to PARCC regarding this issue.  It is reproduced below.  I will let you know if and when I receive a response.



So here is a link to a video I shot of my 9 year old daughter this afternoon.

First, go watch the video.

Please, please, please do this now.  

As I’ve previously written (and will write more), I have some concerns about the genesis of the Common Core and some quibbles about the details of what we’re asking of our students.  But as I’ve also previously written, I am not “anti-Common Core,” and in fact, I think there is a lot of good to be said for establishing a floor-level of knowledge and skills that all of our students should have and be able to demonstrate.  My concerns revolve around:

(1) whether that floor will become a ceiling;

(2)  how we’re implementing our new Common Core;

(3)  my quibbles about the details of what is and what is not covered (for instance, I tend to fall in the camp that would prefer that our kids learn to write in cursive, but I also acknowledge that reasonable minds may differ on this point, and if the democratic consensus is against teaching cursive, I am comfortable living with that — and supplementing at home as I see fit); and

(4) most critically, how we are measuring our children’s progress toward achieving the Common Core State Standards.

As I am sure the majority of my readers are aware, the ~46 states that have adopted the CCSS have joined one of two consortia for developing standardized tests intended to measure students’ progress toward meeting the CCSS standards.  My state, New Jersey, has joined PARCC, which is the “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.”  According to PARCC’s website, the 17 PARCC states (plus the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories) collectively educate about 22 million students.  If my math is correct, that means that a year from now, when the PARCC assessments go online for all students in the 2014-2015 academic year, the PARCC assessments will be assessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-17 million children annually (22 million / 13 grades x 10 grades that are going to be subject to testing since testing doesn’t start until 3rd grade).

This spring (about two months from now), the PARCC field test will be administered to about one million students.  As you may be aware, the PARCC tests are not the Number 2 pencil fill-in-the-bubble tests of our youth.  Rather, these tests will be taken entirely online.

Sample question prototypes are currently available online through the PARCC website.  The website has a link that allows you to, and I quote: “Try out sample test questions in their intended environment.”

So I did.

And I was frustrated.  Immensely frustrated.

But then I realized that no one is going to care about my descriptions of my frustration with “the sample test questions in their intended environment.”  But maybe someone will care about my daughter’s frustration.  After all, she’s 9.  She’s currently in third grade.  She will be taking these tests a year from now.  And she’s a good kid, she’s a strong student, and she is game to try new things.

So I asked her to try one of the sample questions.  A few minutes in, when I got a sense of how frustrating the process was for her, I asked her permission to video her attempts to get the interface to work.  She agreed, and hopefully the video is showing up here, because my description of how this process went can’t do it justice.

So that no one claims that I am gaming the system by not meeting technology specifications, etc., here is what I can tell you about what systems we are running, etc.:

I am not a tech-y type person, but I had her do this on an iPad3, I think it is.  Maybe it’s an iPad 4.  I’m honestly not sure.  Anyway, my iPad is one that has 128G of storage and a lightning connector.  I bought it in June of 2013.  It is running the latest version of iOS 7 (iOS 7.0.6) (I checked).  It is a wireless-only iPad, so I was using its wireless connection to connect to our home network, which is a Verizon Fios network with a Verizon-provided wireless router.  I generally experience little-to-no lag on my iPad or home computer, and can stream movies, etc., with ease.  The point of all of this is that I really don’t think that the problems you will see with the lag and the website are on our end.  I really don’t.

According to the PARCC website, the “computer operating system and web browser requirements for viewing the Sample Items are the same as those for the general TestNav platform” (whatever that is).  There is a link to a “complete list of supported systems.”  The formatting is slightly different for reasons that escape me (although I just copied it with copy & paste), but this is a table that appears on that link:

Tablet/Other OS TestNav App
iOS 6
iOS 7
Must be running Chrome OS 33



So again, my daughter did this on a recent iPad running the latest version of iOS7, which is a supported system according to the test makers’ own website.

Here is a screenshot of the problem she worked on in the video.

This problem isn’t particularly hard, right?  In fact, I think it’s about right for 3rd graders.  

For Part A, we know that Elena has 5 beads, and that Damian has 8 more beads than Elena.  So Damian has 5 + 8 = 13 beads, right?

So far, so good.  Now we also know that Trish has 4 times as many beads as Damian.  Since we know that Damian has 13 beads, we know that Trish has 13 x 4 = 52 beads.  

For Part B, we know that Elena has 5 beads, Damian has 13 beads, and Trish has 52 beads.  In addition, we know that after distributing the beads, Mrs. Morales had 10 beads left.  

Therefore, Mrs. Morales started with 5 + 13 + 52 + 10 = 80 beads.  

Her problem was not the math.  Her problem was not figuring out the right answers (although we do see how having to switch back and forth between paper and screen is distracting and more likely to lead to transcription and/or careless errors).  But perhaps that is a skill we’re also trying to test the third graders for?  No?  Well, it’s not a terrible skill to learn.  

Her problem, however, was typing what she knew into the iPad program.

Did you see how many times she had to switch back and forth between various entry formats?

Did you see the lag when she tried to type in her explanation of the problem?

Did you see?

I named this blog “Parenting the Core” for a reason: my primary intention is to write about teaching and learning in the era of the Common Core from a parent’s perspective.  Because it was education-related, I wrote and posted my teacher’s manifesto, which went viral.  But while I do not pretend to understand the pressures faced by our children’s teachers in the current environment, I can speak to the pressures I’m seeing in my house as a parent — and that my child is feeling as a student.  

And what I am seeing (which you’ve all hopefully seen now as well) is that I have some serious issues (simply from a technological perspective) with the proposed PARCC assessments.  You know, the ones that over a million U.S. students will be field testing two months from now.  The ones running on a platform that apparently fails to register letters or registers additional letters as our kids try to type.  The ones that require our third graders to switch back and forth between various input formats numerous times as they try to answer a math problem.  

The ones that made me, an adult, so frustrated that I wanted to throw my iPad out the window.

The ones I never would have dreamed in a million years of opting my daughter out of.  At least not before today.

20 thoughts on “PARCC Online

  1. Stressful and frustrating! Learning – and demonstrating skills -should be made easier and more inviting, not harder and disappointing experiences.

    Your daughter did wonderfully, please tell her thanks for demonstrating this! 🙂



    1. I have and I will — thank you. I was proud at her for keeping her cool through the frustration of the interface. And if she is eventually stuck doing this nonsense, I am glad that she will know that the technology snafus are the vendors’ fault; not hers.


  2. But the boomers’ pension funds have been raided, our childrens’ future has been mortgaged in the educaton-loan industrial complex, our industries have been dismantled because the market deemed their ROI too low, and all profit margins based on austerity has been squeezed dry.
    What will our creative job creators have to milk to keep from working? Why not think about them!


  3. My 10 year old 4th grader is taking the “test the test” Parcc test the end of March. I believe it is the 25/26. We have 4 fourth grade classrooms and the student in 2 of the four will be given the test. My daughter is nervous already. Now after reading this I am too. The computers in our school that they will be using barely work for starfall and hudamath. How are they going to take this test on them??? Thank you for the blog, I will now follow religiously.


    1. Thanks for your comment, and I wish your daughter the best of luck. I would ask a lot of questions at your daughters’ school. Find out if they’ve got the technology to handle the field testing for PARCC. Talk to your child’s building principal and/or your district’s technology coordinator. And most importantly, let your child know that any technology snafus are not her fault, and that you’re proud of her for putting out her best effort, regardless of what the results might be. Good luck!


      1. I spoke to her teacher today and he told me he doesn’t think the test will even happen due to the lack of compatible computers. He has also spoken to the class about the test and how it is just testing the system not the children. We have a technology teacher, former fourth grade teacher, in our school and she said the same thing about our computers. Our district superintendent says all the schools will be up and running with new computers, but I don’t see that happening this year or even next. I am just glad my kids have excellent teachers, even if the district lacks in many areas.


  4. Two things that might help you – First, the iPad is an acceptable device, but students will use an external keyboard to take the assessment on the iPad. Second, it is great that you are letting her use the practice items. That is why they are there, to help kids get used to them. Did you do the tutorial too?? A full practice test will be available online this spring. Talk with your local school district to find out how they are using more technology in their classrooms on a regular basis to give your daughter more opportunities to work with technology.


    1. I hope that all you say is true. I agree that the ELA items could be completed using an external keyboard (so we used one), but the external keyboard was not functional for the math items (which makes sense in a way, b/c an external keyboard may not have all of the required math symbols).

      I think it’s useful to be aware of and to do some practice with the technology and with standardized tests before testing time, but I think there’s also an issue of excess. I don’t mind a few minutes here and there, but there is no way that I would make her sit down before the test and take an entire sample exam. I am not worried about the technology offerings at her school: she is just finishing an elective in Desktop Publishing, which included daily class typing practice — and although she is not fast, she is certainly able to touch type. That is part of why dealing with the iPad was so frustrating on these math questions: now that she knows the basics of how to touch type, it was difficult to deal with not being able to touch type/having the program not be responsive to her fingers.

      We are very fortunate to live in an excellent school district, and that we are able to provide plenty of enrichment at home. She has access to desktops and laptops and iPads on a regular basis. But not everyone is so lucky — and regardless of who you are, that interface was frustrating. I only hope that there’s substantial improvement for the million kids who will be field testing these tests in a few weeks (and definitely by the time our District starts giving these tests next year).


  5. The schools will just have to spend TONS of money on new computers with advanced versions of windows and better internet connections, instead of spending their money on actually teaching the kids! Ka-ching! Gates will earn billions and billions on a few hundred million dollars of investment.


    1. Hi. Thank you so much for your comment.

      I’ve read and seen your argument before, and I understand (and can relate to) the emotional appeal of it. However, perhaps I am hopelessly naive, but at least as far as Bill Gates goes, although I think that he is misguided about a number of education-related issues, I really don’t think Bill Gates is doing what he’s doing out of greed. He has enough money (so much so that he’s given away hundreds of millions of dollars), and although I don’t agree with large portions of his solutions for public education, I am sure that he is acting out of the best of intentions, and not out of greedy self-interest. Frankly, I think it’s unfortunate when those of us who are concerned about the current direction of our schools start to make arguments like this one, because I think it undermines our credibility.

      Yes, Gates makes money from many technology purchases, but I don’t think that’s what motivates the technology push: rather, I think it’s the technophile’s bias of assuming that technology = better. Sometimes, there is no question that technology is better. For instance: yay to not having to learn to use a slide rule. But in many instances, there are strong arguments for the old-fashioned way of doing things. For instance, I think that young children gain much more developmentally from handwriting their letters than they do from pushing buttons on a virtual keyboard. And for all but a very tiny and select group of students, I think the idea of virtual schools (i.e., the virtual charters) is an appallingly stupid one.

      Anyway, I’ve got a blog post in the works about the idea that we should trust our children’s teachers even when they may make conscious decisions to opt out of using the latest gee-whiz technology, and that when we have to make choices about what to fund in our public schools, I, for one, would think carefully before funding technology over teachers.

      One of my concerns about the current tone of rhetoric on both sides of the educational policy debate is that it’s become an incredibly us vs. them mentality. There is no question in my mind that some of that is about what I think is a true antipathy by certain “ed reform warriors” against unions, but I think all of our children would be much better off if we’d start by looking for our points of agreement, and then engage in reasoned discourse to try to persuade others to our points of view. I applaud those who are doing investigative journalism to try to follow the money, and I think there’s plenty of corruption, shady deal making, and people out to make a buck in the urban education/charter world (see, e.g., ), but I think it’s silly to assume that Bill Gates is in this to make a buck, and I think that arguments like that undermine the real issues before us.


      1. I for one am happy about the tech requirements, if for totally unrelated reasons. I work with too many schools that have purchased “education-quality” (i.e. bottom of the line) computers that can barely run Office or browse the web, much less do anything interesting with rich media or programming. I don’t like standardized tests at all, and PARCC in particular will add another layer of difficulty I think, but I am glad that districts will finally have to enter the 21st century in terms of computer and network technology. I agree with your comments elsewhere that technology alone doesn’t solve anything, and in the wrong hands can even hurt, but as an educational technology researcher I have seen many tools and programs that really do have the potential to do a great deal of good when put into the hands of a skilled teacher.


  6. I am a usability specialist– I study how people interact with technology. In this case, PARCC is primarily testing how well this girl can use the computer interface to answer the question, and secondarily testing her math skills. Imagine if you learned to navigate using a GPS system, and then I tested your navigation skills using a paper road map. Am I testing your navigation skills or am I testing how quickly and successfully you can translate your GPS navigation skills to figuring out how to use a paper map? From watching the girl in the video, I can see PARCC is primarily testing how successfully (or not) children can use technology to take tests. Of course, this has nothing to do with the child’s mastery of the content. Based on how the child in the video struggled to use the interface, PARCC must study how children actually use with the application–and fix it– before our children are tested on the content of the application.


    1. I could not have said this better — thank you for sharing your expertise! That is what is so frustrating about the video: this girl (my daughter) was being tested on whether she could be patient enough to navigate the technology, and not on her math skills. I am hopeful that PARCC will seek out people like you to help them make this distinction (and fix this issue).


  7. On the tech-related issue, I am a HS English teacher and have been in the library using online databases and Google Drive to help my kids through the research process, but have been stymied by a failed network for 2 straight days in one of my classes. This despite the fact that next year every freshman in our district will be “purchasing” iPads instead of textbooks and teachers are expected to transition to paperless classrooms. In addition, some of our class will be piloting the PARCC test in English at the end of the month. I am glad my classes aren’t included because of my lack of faith in our network (what happens when the server goes down in the middle of the PARCC test? how much instructional time will be lost?) and my disdain for the data-craze that is taking over education. Certainly, I agree that there should minimum standards for learning throughout the nation. Every child deserves a quality education. And good assessment can provide a glimpse into how well a student is learning, but the problems are myriad.

    I believe the implementation of this is moving far faster than infrastructure and professional development can move. Many teachers are just as frustrated as your daughter, if not more. We have a lot more on the line these days. On the heels of NCLB and its punitive nature, as well as other endeavors that have been labeled “education reform,” these top-down forces on education have resulted in an assault on the professionalism of teachers.

    I know you posted a response defending the intentions of Bill Gates in particular, and stated that claims about greed driving some of this “reform” undermine our resistance to some of these changes. But as the legislative chair of my local education association, I have read and read and read about the assault on public education by for-profit charters and the well-connected who swoop in to fix “broken schools,” particularly in large urban districts. I am sure there are good people out there with the best intentions, but these high-stakes tests are a gateway for justifying the dismantling of public education by private corporations or “capitalizing” on great “opportunities.” Again, I am not claiming that handshakes were exchanged in smoky back-room deals, but they are definitely a cog in the machine, and in the very least have received tremendous support from corporations because of the opportunity for profit that comes with technology upgrades, prepackaged curriculum, “new” textbooks, consulting fees, and, when all else fails, a private charter corporation to fix everything, supported by public money with no public control or even oversight.

    (Check out for great journalism and satire on the most oily parts of ed reform)

    I really hope that the “bugs” are worked out, but in the meantime the stakes are pretty high for both the teachers and the students. I hope most parents take the “results” of these new tests with a grain of salt and continue to work with teachers to provide the best education they can for their kids. Students and teachers need your support and encouragement.


    1. Hi Scott,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments — I think it’s the talking and learning from each other that help to move us forward. I wrote a piece recently about trying to strike the right balance between needed, appropriate, and instructionally helpful tech upgrades, and upgrades simply for the sake of PARCC. I found the numbers somewhat shocking, but I was glad to hear at our local budget workshop meeting last night that our local district is planning to spend about $500k from a technology capital improvements bonded funds to upgrade wireless coverage, the district’s internet connection, and other connectivity-related infrastructure improvements. I am not a techie, but those spending decisions comport with what I’ve heard from individual technology teachers in our town about the problems our district has had with internet connectivity. I am glad their concerns are not getting ignored.

      I also think we need to make thoughtful decisions about device purchases. Our local district voted last night to set aside an additional $500k for device upgrades — I only hope that any purchasing decisions are made thoughtfully, with plenty of transparency for the public and input by teachers.

      And I think you picked up on the nuance I tried to convey in my “defense” of Bill Gates’ intentions. Look, we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I think some/many of the policy positions advocated by the Gates Foundation, etc., are bad for children, schools, teachers, and communities. That doesn’t mean that they’re not well-intentioned, and that doesn’t even mean that they aren’t good fits for certain communities, but in general, I tend to think that one-size-fits-all education reform has more troubling than positive consequences. And there is no question that advocacy by certain other charter/ed reform supporters is highly motivated by a union busting mentality that I, for one, find quite troubling.

      I think there is a lot of seductive greed and self-interest at play in the lower ranks of the ed reform movement: there is no question that a whole lot of career changers and similar people are bringing home upper middle class salaries and jumping in much higher up the traditional education career ladder than career teachers can. I find that troubling, and am concerned that it does a disservice to children. I think it is a problematic trend, and we need to carefully follow the money trail. As a taxpayer, I have a lot of concerns about the lack of transparency when public funds are devoted to privately managed entities, such as charters. I live in an extremely highly taxed town and state, and fear that I will be priced out of the community I love. As a result, I am concerned that our local BOE is not as demanding as it could and should be concerning the costs and benefits of proposed spending (be it on technology, central office, new teachers, etc.). Given a choice, I will always choose funding student-facing positions first.

      All I am advocating for is that we try to build bridges as much as we can, and to see if we can persuade so that the good intentions get coupled with good actions. As to the true bad apples/actors (and there are some in any large organization or political/social movement), I think that regardless of which side of the policy debates we fall on, we need to condemn corruption and greed wherever and whenever we encounter it.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful response.

      Best regards,


  8. Can someone help me? I am trying to find out if NJ parents can opt out of having their child take the field test for the PARCC assessment. Thank you.


    1. I ask, because my child’s school is saying she must take the test when I prefer her not to. I know I can keep her home, but she won a school competition that enables her to compete on a county level, and this competition is on the same day as the field test. I’d rather her go to the competition that she worked hard all year than stay and take the field test (seeing as it’s basically Pearson using our students as field-test subjects to see if their programs work). I can’t believe school time is even being used for Pearson’s objectives. Please help – the competition is early next week!


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