Observations on the PARCC sample Algebra II exam

Fresh off the presses at


you can now find complete PARCC sample exams. Since it’s the one I most likely have to worry about next year, I tried out the Algebra II exam.

While I haven’t checked the other tests yet, the Algebra II has laid off the “show your work” type question. I’m going to put this in the positive column (I was deeply worried about open responses being graded by an army of interns; plus the turnaround needs to be very fast because this is technically the final for our Algebra II class. Imagine having to shave off an extra two months from the end to give time for the test to be graded). [ADD: According to this comment, this only applies to the final exam, and there are still “show your work” type questions on the other tests.]

Some question-by-question comments:


I admit I was baffled enough by this one to check Wolfram Alpha (I got m = -15/2 where m = 1 was extraneous), until I realized the key phrase “you may not need to use all of the answer boxes”. We’re going to have to specially train students for that trick, I think.


I tested this one on my students. The majority put the value for x which makes the statement true (1) not the extraneous solution (-3/4). I can understand the motivation here: forcing students to go through the factoring rather than just test numbers or even eyeball the thing, but putting the extraneous solution as an answer is rare and I can imagine a legion of students being confused by this.


I always considered the trick of rejiggering a number’s base (turning 4 into 2^2) to be something of a side trick; I’ve never had to use it outside a college algebra book.


Because saying “complete the square” would be too easy. In all seriousness, this is one of those problems I would have many students know how to do but get intimidated by the language of the question.


So the first 8 questions (which I was just quoting from) are in the non-calculator portion of the test. The remaining 26 are from the calculator portion. The students will have access to a TI-84 emulator.


I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. In a way it’s a neat bit of factoring (yank out the (x-y) terms, and what remains will be a difference of squares, tossing an extra (x-y) on the pile) but it also looks nothing like the kind of factoring from any textbook I’ve used; I’m fairly sure our Carnegie Learning book (which was written from scratch specifically for Common Core) has nothing like it.


The number of fancy widgets to enter answers has dropped considerably, but here’s one; you drag and drop in order.

Also noteworthy: there are two problems involving average rate of change. I think in our textbook there was enough material to squeeze out a single day. The PARCC writers must be putting rather more emphasis on it.


Here’s another widget: the dots are dragged around to form the graph. I was somewhat thrown by the dots not just snapping to the grid but also the halfway points. I believe this is a bad idea. A student could easily think they have a correct answer but leave the dot halfway rather than right on the appropriate point.


My students would be thrown off by the wording here. I think the intermediate step is actually helpful, but the phrase “Product of greatest common factor and binomial” looks so technical many of them would shut down.


I’m used to tests that make the statistics so easy students can answer them with no training whatsoever, but this is what I’d call a real statistics question.


This is a widget that lets you select an interval on the number line. In the process of trying to enter an answer the number line disappeared. Then going back a question and returning I was unable to get anything to appear at all.


7 Responses

  1. I’ve looked at these recently and I am not at all enthused by the functionality of the computer based aspect of these tests. It’s like a crappy iPhone app that you would normally just delete after one use. But the students obviously can’t delete this thing. I know what they are trying to do with the interactive pieces, but imo it fails to add value and they should replace them with multiple choice. We could discuss all day about ways to make the interface better, but in the end I think we would get no more value than just using multiple choice format (but keep it computer based). The questions are fine but I am saddened that the functionality of the test is taking this turn. I hope they reevaluate their take on CBT before this goes live.

  2. Not sure that PARCC has laid off the show your work. The tests they released are the end of year tests which is meant to be the type 1 questions. They are supposed to release a sample problem based exam with many many more of the show your work problems in the fall.

  3. > We’re going to have to specially train students for that trick, I think

    I’m in the SBAC part of the world, but we’re facing pretty much exactly the same issues – as much as students are supposed to be tech savvy, dealing with the interface of the questions will be a notable factor in their assessments.

    And totally agreed on the crappy phone app you’d delete if you had a choice.

  4. […] Observations on the PARCC sample Algebra II exam […]

  5. Very interesting. Are you teaching algebra 2 this year? If so, are you modifying the curriculum? What order are you planning on teaching it? We have run into trouble trying to decide! Thanks!

  6. […] 1: Observations on the PARCC sample Algebra I exam Part 2: Observations on the PARCC sample Algebra II exam Part 3: Observations on the PARCC sample Geometry exam Part 4: Observations on the SAGE sample […]

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