Are the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced Tests Too Difficult?

       Public schools across the country are now using the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments in Mathematics and English/Language Arts in grades 3 to high school.  Aside from the political commentary about these tests, some teachers have concerns that they are too difficult for their students.  Along with this concern comes concerns about hurting students' self-esteem, battling parents' perceptions of their children's abilities, and aligning earned course grades with earned PARCC and Smarter Balanced scores.

       I have heard and read comments that say that these tests are good for students who are very strong academically, but that they are inappropriate for students who are average or below average.  Sometimes parents have commented on sample problems and have stated that they are too hard for the students.

       The standards that these tests are written to are aligned to world-class education standards.  I realize that "world-class" is a buzz word, but I agree that these standards (and associated tests) represent an uptick with regard to rigor compared to those that they are replacing.  We know that too many of our students get good grades in elementary and middle school and then struggle with subjects in high school.  Or, they do fine (in terms of course grades) even through high school, but then they do poorly on the SAT or ACT.  We also know that many students graduate from high school, go to college, and do not graduate from college. (see college graduation rates)

       Hence, public schools are faced with this problem of students who appear to be learning and doing well in school, but then struggle with learning later.  We addressed this problem by incorporating tougher standards and putting in place assessments to see if the students are attaining these tougher standards.  In my opinion, this needs to happen; this must happen.  Nobody wants to see their own child struggling.    But we have to realize that this is already happening:


  • poor SAT/ACT scores
  • low AP scores
  • high percentages of students taking remedial math and english courses in college
  • students dropping out of college before earning a degree
       Until now, we have always been able to say "my kid gets good grades in school, so none of these other things matter to me".  But we have been fooling ourselves.  

       If we want students to be successful, we have to raise the standards (as we've done) and we have to insist on continually high standards throughout P-12 education.  This must happen.  Better education leads to better lives for our future adults--which leads to a better society for all of us.

       The tests are not too difficult.  We must, must, must insist on high standards, and we must do everything we can to help our students to achieve these higher standards.  I believe that our public schools will do exactly this in the years to come.  We will meet this challenge and we will raise student achievement and we will help to produce a society of educated people who are not afraid to face challenges, find solution, and succeed.


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