Does your state have the best assessment?

How well is your state’s assessment doing its job?

Two recent studies, the first of their kind, took a look at four different assessments currently being used across the country to see the quality and alignment to Common Core State Standards.

The study looked at:

  • Smarter Balanced, administered in 17 states
  • PARCC, administered in 10 states (and DC)
  • ACT Aspire, administered in 2 states
  • MCAS, which is only administered in Massachusetts.

Content Rating - ELAThe Fordham Institute study looked at tests for grades 5 through 8, while the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) study analyzed high school assessments. Both studies found that PARCC and Smarter Balanced prove to be tests worth taking, scoring higher in a number of categories than ACT Aspire or MCAS.

The studies conclude that PARCC and Smarter Balanced go beyond the “bubble test” by measuring a wide range of real-world skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and analysis.


According to the Fordham study, PARCC received high marks for paying close attention to the more complex skills called for in the Common Core State Standards, “including close reading, writing to sources, and the critical mathematics work of each grade,” especially in comparison to the other assessments.

Meanwhile, the HumRRO report found that PARCC tests place a strong emphasis on high quality texts, close reading skills and analysis, and the mathematics content necessary to succeed in high school.

Smarter Balanced:

The Fordham study gave Smarter Balanced tests high marks for their use of technology, particularly in the ELA/Literacy assessment which uses technology in ways that both mirror real-world uses and provides quality measurement of targeted skills.

The Smarter Balanced tests excelled at focusing on the content and rigor needed for college and career readiness, including close reading and analysis of high quality texts and the mathematics required for future success. Additionally, HumRRO found that the Smarter Balanced assessment is the one test that assesses listening skills.

Both studies show that PARCC and Smarter Balanced are particularly well-matched to the content emphasized in the Common Core State Standards, more so than MCAS and ACT Aspire.

Why does assessment quality matter?

While tests are just one measure of a student’s knowledge, statewide assessments do serve as an important source of information to help parents and teachers know specific areas of study where a child needs support and where they are excelling.

Because of their alignment to Common Core and the depth of their content, PARCC and Smarter Balanced are able to provide teachers and parents with better information about specific areas in each subject where a student is excelling or needs more support. This helps drive instruction.

The study’s findings mirror results from a November 2015 analysis from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, in which State Teachers of the Year “assessed the assessments” and overwhelmingly reported that the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests were more useful to educators and more aligned to the high standards than their state’s previous assessments.