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How to Prepare Students for PARCC/SBACC Tests

Posted by on September 3, 2015

prepare for parccThis is a reprint of an article I posted last Spring. By starting these tasks in Fall, you’ll be ready when yearly assessments arrive in April-May:

Between March and June, 2015, nearly five million students in 11 states and the District of Columbia completed the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing to measure student accomplishment of Common Core State Standards in the areas of mathematics and English/language arts. Tests were administered via digital devices (though there are options for paper-and-pencil). Besides measuring student achievement, they also were an indicator of school facility to administer green digital tests instead of the traditional paper-and-pencil versions. Lots of schools discovered that, though student knew the material, they were unable to adequately communicate their knowledge using unfamiliar digital tools as basic as keyboard familiarity.

I polled my PLN to find specific tech areas students needed help with in preparing for the Assessments. It boils down to five tech areas. Pay attention to these and your students will be much more prepared for this Spring’s Common Core assessments:


Students need to have enough familiarity with the keyboard that they know where keys are, where the number pad is, where the F row is, how keys are laid out. They don’t need to be touch typists or even facilely use all fingers. Just have them comfortable enough they have a good understanding of where all the pieces are. Have students type fifteen minutes a week in a class setting and 45 minutes a week using keyboarding for class activities (homework, projects–that sort). That’ll do it.

Basic computer skills

Skills that were listed by teachers as difficult for students included:

  • Drag-droptech in ed
  • Compare-contrast
  • Write a letter
  • Watch a video
  • Fill in boxes on table
  • Mouse manipulation
  • Keyboarding
  • Know keyboard layout—delete, arrows, space bar
  • Drop-down menus
  • Highlighting
  • Unselect
  • Scroll
  • Use calculator, protractor, ruler
  • Use video player
  • Use multiple windows/tabs
  • Use online dictionaries, thesauruses
  • Plot points
  • Read and comprehend online

Many of these are not easy for a student if they haven’t had instruction in using computers. It won’t surprise any adult when I say using an iPad isn’t the same as using a computer. The former has a bunch more buttons and tools and the latter is more intuitive. And typing on an IPad virtual keyboard is not the same. Will students get used to that? Yes, but not this month.

Make sure students are technologically proficient in their use of a variety of digital devices, especially the devices they will use for the test. This means have an understanding of how it operates, what type of programs are used on various devices (for example, apps are for iPads and software for laptops), and what’s the best way to scaffold them for learning? Being comfortable with technology takes time and practice. Make digital devices and tech solutions available at every opportunity–for note-taking, backchannel communications, quick assessments, online collaboration, even timing an activity. Make it part of a student’s educational landscape.

This includes the safe and effective use of the internet. Students should understand how to maneuver through a website without distraction.

One final note: Use the correct terminology as you teach. If students don’t understand what you’re saying, help them decode it with context, affixes, or an online dictionary for geek words.

StaminaDog with a laptop

Expect students to type for extended periods without complaint. Common Core requires this. That’s what ‘one page in a sitting in 4th grade, 2 pages in 5th grade, 3 pages in 6th grade’ means. The Assessments expect students have that sort of stamina. They’re long tests with lots of keyboarding and other tech skills. Make sure students have practiced working at computers for extended periods.

A good idea is to have students take some online assessments prior to this summative one. These can be created by the teacher using tools like Google Forms or already-created tests like those that follow BrainPop videos.

Problem Solvingideas and creativity in business

Make sure students know what to do when tech fails. They should be able to handle simple problems (here’s a list you can start with) like ‘headphones don’t work’ or ‘caps lock won’t turn on’ or ‘my document froze’. This is easily accomplished by having students take responsibility for solving tech problems with the teacher acting as a resource. They will soon be able to differentiate between what they have the ability to handle and what requires assistance.

A great starting point when teaching problem solving strategies is Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice. These are aligned with Math, but apply to all learning.

Teacher Trainingteachers

Make sure teachers administering the online tests are familiar with them. They should know how to solve basic tech issues that arise without calling for outside help. This is effectively accomplished by having teachers use technology in their classroom on a regular basis for class activities, as a useful tool in their educational goals.

Here’s The Journal’s advice on tech skills students need to be prepared for PARCC.

More tips on assessments:

I need year-long assessments

10 Factors to Inform Tech Assessment

5 Ways to Cure Technophobia in the Classroom

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

updated 5-6-16

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