Thinking of PARCC and the Common Core

Have you been following Alice Mercer’s posts about the Common Core? No? You should. Alice has been insightful as she scrutinizes the Common Core from her home/teaching base in California and it well worth your time to read what she has to say and contribute to the conversations. Today, she used the Reading Wars analogy as she dove into the ELA frameworks. Yesterday, she was mulling over the Math frameworks.

Go on. Visit Alice. I’ll wait.


Alice has been asking bloggers to do more writing around the Common Core — to get more teaching voices into the mix. I’ve been doing that here an there over the past year or so (see my posts) and I have a Diigo group where I have been collecting information about the Common Core shift (see Diigo Group). My state has fully embraced the Common Core and so, we are right now in the midst of a “transition year” that almost no district is ready for. But the new assessments are on the horizon. The question is, what will those look like?

Well, it is still too early to say, but since our state of Massachusetts is the lead in the PARCC Model, there are some hints. (PARCC: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)

These two screenshots come from a webinar about the PARCC as it is now being developed. Essentially, the writers of the assessment are assuming that we will be teaching four main inquiry/research units through the year. One of those will emerge as the one that gets assessed by the PARCC model. Notice again the emphasis on argumentative and expository writing, and less on narrative, and also how informational text is a big part of the reading (moving away from novels at the center of reading).

Parcc ELA Content Frameworks
PARCC Assessment Model

(In some writing guidelines from the PARCC, it notes that in grades 6-8, there should be 35 percent argument writing, 35 percent expository writing, and 30 percent narrative. That shifts to 40/40/20 in the high school grades.)

Tom Hoffman, who has been a thoughtful and vocal critic of Common Core ever since it was first proposed, made a good point at Alice’s blog this morning. He notes, “And everything before the tests come out is just prelude.” He’s right. Until we know the assessment, most teachers are not diving in to find the strengths and weaknesses of the new standards, nor are they making adjustments and shifts needed (in my experience in working with teachers).

I don’t see myself as an opponent or advocate of the Common Core. I think an overall weakness of expectations in many states, and failures in too many districts, have put us all in this position now. The fact is, too many of our kids were graduating without the skills they need for a fruitful life, or not graduating at all. To say otherwise is to ignore the reality. As a teacher, I am trying my best to understand the ramifications of the Common Core, and PARCC, and I suggest that we all be doing the same. And if you blog, share out your thinking. Please. We need more voices, more strategies, more connections with other teachers.

As Alice notes, the loudest voices right now seem to be people like David Coleman, who helped develop the standards and is showcasing so-called “exemplar lessons” that may not jibe with your own teaching practice. But you and I both know that school administrators will be looking for those pre-packaged curriculum units that meet the Common Core (it’s easier than spending time developing your own), and they will be jamming those lessons down our throats, if we are not careful and thoughtful, and full of our own advocacy.

Peace (in and out of the core),


  1. I think we all need to take a deep breath when it comes to the Common Core. As you stated, until we see some assessments it will he hard to figure out where exactly the emphasis is placed. Personally, as a former middle school science teacher I appreciate that the standards point out that literacy is also a component of content-area instruction. Perhaps science and history teachers will receive some PD support in this area instead of having to figure it out all by themselves. I also enjoy the incorporation of some digital text (more would be better in my opinion) and the fact that the standards are not as fine-grained as what we currently have in California. It provides teachers some wiggle room to customize instruction.

    • Deep breaths are good.
      I agree about the connections of literacy to content area. I also think this may pose a struggle for some schools where that division of teaching has been “reading/writing is ELA.” The Common Core will force difficult discussions about what is literacy and who teaches it, where.
      PD will be critical on this very issue.

  2. Thanks for this piece. I think it’s really crucial that elementary teachers start to talk about this, rather than waiting for others to hand us curriculum. I’m pushing this one on Twitter. I also got a comment on my piece from Joe Wood sharing an NWP perspective.

    • Thanks for rallying the voices (are the voices rallying?). I think part of what folks need to do is spend some real time with the Common Core and their state standards. In Massachusetts, there is a whole set of “guiding principles” that are actually very insightful. They lay out the aims of literacy in our children — addressing topics such as diversity, valuing perspectives, digital media, writing for audience, and more. I don’t know what other states will do but I have found the Guiding Principles to be as valuable as the rest of the standards.

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