If you’re currently teaching the Common Core ELA Standards, you’re already teaching students to think critically and to look at building their reading and writing skills in new ways. The PARCC ELA assessments are aligned to the Common Core standards you’re already teaching. Those standards just come in the form of intimidating question types such as EBSRs and TECRs. While it may seem like you have to do a lot of teaching to help students figure out all of these question types, you don’t. If you want students to be successful on the PARCC ELA assessments, particularly those that deal with reading comprehension, you simply need to focus on three key areas that you’re probably already focused on anyway.
1. Text Variety
According to its developers, the goal of the PARCC is to include “texts worth reading.” These are authentic texts that come from a variety of sources, not texts written solely for the test. These texts also come in a variety for formats. Students may read an excerpt from a how-to manual, a business e-mail, or a newspaper article. They may have to interpret recipes, bus schedules, and advertisements.
Whether you’re preparing for the PARCC or simply teaching on an ordinary day, it’s time to decrease your reliance on the textbook and other traditional books and start having students read non-traditional texts. They should be reading newspapers, signs, webpages, e-mails, and historical documents. Look for texts that have charts and diagrams and texts that offer different views of the same topic too. This will help students experience the variety of passage they’ll likely find on the test – and in real life.
When it comes to more traditional texts, such as short stories and non-fiction books, students should be perusing digital versions along with the traditional print. Reading a digital version of a passage uses different skills that reading a paper-based version of a passage. Since most students will take the PARCC digitally, they need to have experience reading on a screen.
2. Evidence and Support
One of the main question types students will encounter on the PARCC ELA assessments is the EBSR. This stands for Evidence-Based Selected-Response. It sounds fancy, but all EBSR means is that students will have to answer a question and back up their answer with evidence. (See examples of EBSR questions on our practice PARCC worksheets) This is what students should be doing in the ELA classroom every day.
When students answer a question about a text, do you ask them how they arrived at that answer? That is exactly what the PARCC asks students to do. The only difference is that instead of making them search for the exact answer in the text, it gives them a series of answers to choose from. If students can find the support in the text on their own, they shouldn’t have any trouble choosing the correct answer on the PARCC.
If you’re not already encouraging students to provide support when they answer questions about a text, there are a few simple ways to help them. On a paper-based version of a text, have students regularly highlight or use sticky notes to mark the support for a particular answer. When a student answers a question in class regularly ask “why?” or “how do you know?” For students who struggle with finding support for their answers, spend some time modeling your thinking for students as you do a close reading of the text.
3. Organizing Thoughts and Information
Perhaps the most intimidating part of the PARCC is the new type of question – the dreaded TECR or Technology-Enhanced Constructed Response. While this format is new to the standardized assessment world, it’s very familiar in most ELA classrooms. A TECR is simply a glorified graphic organizer, something you likely use in your classroom every day. On TECR questions students may be asked to match a sentence from a text with a statement, compare and contrast two ideas, put events into a sequence, identify a problem and solution, or show their understanding of a cause/effect relationship.
Help Teaching has a large selection of graphic organizers for you to use with students. The key is to introduce students to many different types of graphic organizers so they become used to analyzing a text in many different ways. For example, you don’t always want to use a Venn diagram to have students compare/contrast. You could also use a T-chart or another type of organizer.
The reality is, you don’t have to spend hours worrying about how you’re going to prepare students for the PARCC ELA assessments. If you’re already teaching the Common Core standards as they’re meant to be taught, you’re helping students build the skills they’ll need to be successful on the test. Continue to provide students with a variety of texts, encourage them to support their answers, and help them organize their thinking with graphic organizers. Then build their confidence by telling them they have the skills they need to ace the test.
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