Every spring my students spend a week taking the PARCC test. Like every other teacher who sends students off to take the test, I want my students to show what they know. Some people view the test as forcing teachers to try to teach to the test. I’m not really sure how one would do that. I don’t even try. I teach the Common Core State Standards and I try to teach my students how to tackle different kinds of test structures. One of those that my students need to be able to tackle well is the PARCC Math Test extended response question structure. Today’s post is about how I start to teach my students to write an extended response.

**Step One – Learning how a task is scored**

I begin by introducing a task that is one grade level below my students current grade. I choose a released PARCC item for that grade level that has anchor papers published to go along with it for this stage. I have students work individually complete the task. I want them to be familiar with the math so that they can then focus their attention on how it is scored.

After students have completed the task, I have them work together in groups to score the anchor papers. Each student scores each anchor paper individually, then they discuss the scores with their table mates. The group comes up with a consensus score for each anchor paper. This takes a fair amount of time. (The completion of the task and the consensus scoring can take between one and two class periods.)

I follow up by giving each group the actual score that each anchor paper would have received. I give them time to review the scores and compare them to their own group’s scoring. I then lead a class discussion on the take-aways from the exercise. These take-aways usually include the following.

- The correctness of the answer matters, but it is only part of the score and usually not the largest part.
- Each sub-part of the question has points allocated to it so it is important to complete each part.
- The explanation or justification is a big part of the point and it doesn’t have to be verbose, it just has to be complete.
- You have to actually answer the question asked.

**Step Two – Applying What We Learned**

For the second step of this exercise, I have students individually complete a grade level task related to the work that we are currently doing. I choose the task from a set of released PARCC items or use a Smarter Balanced Assessment task. The following day, I have students peer review each other’s work. Then, I let students revise their responses based on the feedback that they have received from their table group before turning it in for an actual score.

When I score the task, I use a published rubric. If there is no published rubric, I create one before giving the task to students. If I have to create the rubric, I try to mirror the kinds of rubrics I have seen in released PARCC items. I tend to score pretty strictly on these tasks. When I return the task, I give them feedback and share the rubric used.

**Step Three – Ongoing Practice With the Test Structure**

Because learning how to write a PARCC response is not a one-time event, I incorporate at least one task that will be scored like a PARCC extended response question into every unit. I often give these tasks for students to complete on Quiz or Test days. Students work on the task after they finish the quiz or test. This means that they are seeing a question with this kind of structure about every two weeks.

By the time that they take the actual PARCC test, my students are very comfortable with this kind of test structure. I don’t teach to the test. I teach the content that I should teach based on the standards and based on what my students need. I am just giving them the tools to tackle the test in a way that shows what they know.