Common Core

Assessment 101: PARCC & SBAC


Common Core Asessement 101 PARCC and SBAC

With the Common Core comes a shared expectation of what students across nearly all 50 states are required to know and be able to do. This collective knowledge brings an unprecedented opportunity to assess students relative to their peers nationwide—and to use shared input and experience to build the assessments.

To this end, four government-funded consortia have begun developing common assessments. Two of them, PARCC™ (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), have developed computer-based tests that are being widely adopted by states for use with the general student population. The National Center and State Collaborative Partnership and Dynamic Learning Maps are developing alternative assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities.


Adopted so far by 12 states and the District of Columbia*, the PARCC program offers a common set of K–12 assessments in English and math. These new K–12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal from Grade 3 onward, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction.

The four key components offered by PARCC for Grades 3–11 include:

  1. Diagnostic assessment administered at beginning of each school year
  2. Mid-year assessment predictive of a student’s likely performance by end-of-year
  3. Performance-based assessment in the last quarter of the school year
  4. End-of-year summative assessment

About SBAC

The Smarter Balanced program has been adopted by 18 states to date*. This consortium’s assessments will “support and inform instruction, provide accurate information about what students know and can do, and measure student achievement against standards designed to ensure that all students gain the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and the workplace.”

Administered in Grades 3–8, and again in Grade 11, the program’s three components include:

  1. Computer-adaptive summative assessment that will be administered during the last 12 weeks of the school year
  2. Interim assessments that can be used to predict student performance on the summative assessment while also providing feedback on student progress (mandatory)
  3. Formative assessment resources to help teachers diagnose and respond to the needs of their students relative to CCSS

Comparing PARCC and SBAC

In keeping with the requirements of the Common Core, the goal of both assessment programs is to add coherence and clarity to the testing process, assessing higher-order thinking skills using performance tasks and innovative technology-enhanced items.

The Similarities

  • Assessments are administered on computers
  • Items are written to align to the subject-specific knowledge and skills described in the CCSS
  • Assessments contain novel item formats (such as performance-based tasks and technology-enhanced items) crafted to better assess not just what students know but also what they can do
  • Combined components will assess not only where students are at any one point in time, but also how much they have grown, and the extent to which they are becoming prepared to start college or a career upon graduation from high school
  • In addition to end-of-year assessments, the full assessment system will include formative and interim test materials intended to help teachers and parents better understand the strengths and weaknesses of students throughout the school year, enabling them to take action through targeted interventions before the year is over

The Differences

  • The PARCC assessment uses a fixed-form delivery model
  • The SBAC assessment model will include test items that are computer-adapted, meaning that questions are adjusted based on students’ previous responses. This feature is intended to enable administrators to more quickly identify students’ ability levels.
  • PARCC contains one optional diagnostic and one optional mid-year assessment
  • SBAC contains optional interim assessments for Grades 3–12