Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers | PARCC
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers

Thursday, January 7, 2016

By Callie Riley

Did you know that parents and teachers can view PARCC test items from last year's test? Almost 850 of the test questions are online in the Partnership Resource Center. The list of resources there can be pretty daunting - especially for someone who is not a teacher. 

This guide is designed to help you easily navigate the test questions and related materials, including sample student responses to open-ended test questions, such as writing tasks, that received high scores and lower scores. The student responses also include annotations that give parents, teachers and students specific guidance on how student work is scored.

How can I find released PARCC test questions and tasks?

You can access the released test questions and tasks, including answer keys, standards alignment, and sample student responses in the PARCC Partnership Resource Center. Click on the “Assessments” tab and then “PARCC Released items.”

To create an account in the Partnership Resource Center, click on the headericon symbol in the upper right-hand corner of the page, and then select “Create Account.” This will allow you to flag helpful resources throughout the PRC. The released items are organized by grade level, so feel free to explore!


There are different types of released test items for each grade. What information is in each?

PARCC assessment questions and tasks were designed to fully measure student performance in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. This includes short-answer questions and longer, open-ended writing assignments in English language arts. Mathematics items include shorter multiple-choice and "multiple-select" questions and longer multi-step problems, some requiring students to show how they arrived at their answer. The long-answer items are accompanied by rubrics and annotations that explain how the student’s score was obtained.

There are some terms I’m not very familiar with – can you explain them?

  • Scoring Rubrics – The scoring rubrics for mathematics and English language arts/literacy show what test scorers look for when analyzing each student’s written responses.
  • Scoring Rules – These documents describe the different types of scoring rules for mathematics and English language arts/literacy machine-scored questions. 
  • ELA and Mathematics Sample Student Responses  The sample student responses to mathematics problem sets and English language arts/literacy open-ended questions are in each of these documents. Each sample set correlates to an item set.
  • EOY vs. PBA  In 2014-15, the PARCC test was administered in two parts – a performance-based assessment (PBA) – made up of longer writing exercises in English language arts and multi-step problems in mathematics – and an end-of-year (EOY) assessment, made up of shorter answer questions in both subjects. (In 2015-16 and beyond, the test is in one part, with all types of test questions.)
  • Alignment Documents – Students don't all take the same "form" of the test - there are four to eight forms per test. These charts show which forms of the test include each released test item.
  • Item Sets and Keys – These are the actual questions from PARCC mathematics and English language arts/literacy assessments administered in 2014-15. For mathematics, the keys contain the answers for each item set. Be sure to find the right key for the item set. For example, “Grade 03 Math – PBA – Item Set,” corresponds to the key titled “Grade 03 Math – PBA – Key.”
  • Literary Analysis Task ­– These tasks require students to read two literary texts (reading passages). Students are then asked to answer questions for each text, followed by some questions that include both texts. The students complete the task by writing an analytic essay. The answer keys for the questions are found in this document, and the corresponding "Sample Student Responses” document provides examples of both high-scoring and low-scoring essay responses. 
  • M/L Informational Text Set ­– The medium/long (M/L) informational text set asks students to read and answer questions about an informational text. The answer key is included in the same document.
  • Narrative Writing Task – These tasks require students to read one literary text, answer questions, and then write a narrative response connected to the reading passage. There is a "Sample Student Responses" document that correlates to each writing task at each grade level and provides examples of high-scoring and low-scoring essay responses.
  • Research Simulation Task – These tasks require students to read and analyze several articles or view videos about a specific topic, and then analyze them by answering a set of questions. There is a "Sample Student Responses" document that correlates to the writing task at each grade level and provides examples of both high-scoring and low scoring essay responses. 
  • S/M Literary Text Set – The short/medium (S/M) literary text set asks students to read a literary passage and answer multiple-choice questions. The answer key for each set is included in the document.

Why are the released items valuable?

Real questions and tasks from the test can help teachers, and other educators improve day-to-day instruction in the classroom, and give parents a better understanding of the kind of work their child should be prepared to do. The goal of the PARCC tests is to allow students ample opportunities to show their mastery and knowledge of the standards.

Can I see some examples of items included in the Partnership Resource Center?

Below are two examples of test items your student might have seen on the PARCC test last year, and explanations of what those tasks are asking them to do.

Example #1: Grade 4 Literary Analysis Task

This task requires a student to work through multiple questions and consistently approach the reading passages from different angles — first examining word meaning and asking students to draw evidence from both texts to best describe the characters. As with all PARCC tasks, an individual question may require students to show their mastery of multiple standards at once.

Part A and Part B both address standards RL 4.1.2, L 4.4.1, and RL 4.4.1. Standard RL 4.1 asks students to refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly, and when drawing inferences from the text; L 4.4 focuses on having students determine or clarify the meaning of words and phrases they might not know, based on their reading of the content.


The next part of this task addresses standards RL 4.1., RL 4.3.1, W 4.2, and W 4.4-4.10. Once again, students have to show their mastery of RL 4.1 (a reading standard), but this part of the task also emphasizes their writing skills. For example, W 4.4 asks students to produce clear and coherent writing, appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience. Students would have answered other questions before they reach the stage of writing a response; this process is critical, as it helps students reexamine the text and build a deeper understanding of the characters before they begin writing about them.


Example #2: Grade 5 Mathematics Task

Some of the items on the PARCC assessments are longer performance-based items (as in the English language arts/literacy example above) and other items are shorter, like the mathematics problem below, which contains two parts. In Part A, students show they understand how fractions that look different may have the same value by selecting the correct “circle” in each column of the table. In Part B, students must show they understand the meaning of the problem, and demonstrate their ability to add fractions with different denominators (the bottom half of the fraction). Students can receive 0, 1, or 2 points for this question, as each part is worth 1 point.

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