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

Jaclyn Scotto Siano


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/NJSLA assesses a good many of the Standards, but cannot address all of them. For instance, PARCC/NJSLA 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/NJSLA assesses any given ELA Standard by reviewing the PARCC Evidence Tables for Literacy. undefined

Paired Texts

One way that PARCC/NJSLA 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/NJSLA 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/NJSLA’s content is to ensure that the level of text complexity is similar to PARCC/NJSLA’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, visit PARCC's ELA/Literacy Cognitive Complexity Framework.


PARCC/NJSLA is novel in their test-taking design. PARCC/NJSLA (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.


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 3, grades 4-5, grades 6-11 .)

PARCC/NJSLA also provides scored student samples with annotations of their scoring rationale. PARCC/NJSLA’s annotated released samples are for the Reading Comprehension and Written Expression portion of the rubric. Also, PARCC/NJSLA 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.

Teacher scolding student about his result

Creating EBSRs and TECRs

Lastly, another strategy to assist students with PARCC/NJSLA 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.

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

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/NJSLA, 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.

Inspired Instruction and Standards Solution Holding, LLC are not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc.

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