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A national public policy initiative to improve developmental studies in postsecondary education

PARCC College Readiness Exam’s Approach to Assessment and Placement

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Dr. Allison Jones has graciously agreed to provide a more comprehensive explanation of the PARCC college readiness exam and how it will be used for placement of students into remedial education.  We have clarified the initial post on the topic and offer this full explanation from Dr. Jones for our readers.

Achieve’s Postsecondary Education Strategic Engagement and Collaboration plan is designed to ensure a student’s successful transition from K-12 to postsecondary education culminating in earning a degree and competing successfully in the global economy upon graduation from college.  This successful student transition is dependent upon the extent to which graduating high school seniors master the requisite core competencies in English and mathematics embedded in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) necessary for placement into entry-level, credit-bearing classes without the need for remediation upon matriculation to colleges and universities as well as rigorous high school graduation standards in American Diploma Project (ADP) states.  To achieve this outcome, postsecondary education must support K-12 education reform efforts that include adoption of the CCSS, accountability assessments, and adoption of more rigorous high school graduation standards.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) college ready assessment will be used to determine whether a student will be “placed” into remedial courses or enrolled directly into entry-level, credit-bearing courses.  When colleges and universities refer to “placement,” they are referring to two types of “placement”:  (1) placement into remedial courses, and (2) placement into credit bearing courses.

Thus, the PARCC college ready assessment, and that of SMARTER Balanced, too, will be used by colleges and universities as a “placement test” that determines into which course a student will be placed — remedial or credit-bearing.

It is correct that the college ready placement exam is not designed as a “diagnostic” tool that would identify specific remedial areas in which the student needs additional support.  It will simply indicate whether a student is on track to be college ready at the end of 11th, and if they score “college ready” on the PARCC assessment, the college/university will not require the student to take the institution’s own placement test — thus exempting the student from taking the placement test and placing the student directly into entry-level, credit-bearing courses.

The assessment will determine the extent to which students have mastered the core competencies in Common Core State Standards identified by postsecondary education faculty as key to success in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in English and mathematics.  It will then signal placement into “General Education types” of English (101) and College Algebra if the student is college ready.  It is not intended to determine admission to college or university, and it does not replace college/university tests to place students into higher level mathematics and English courses.

In all, over 750 postsecondary systems and institutions, representing hundreds of colleges and universities, have committed to participate in PARCC. These colleges and universities, including many flagship universities and most of the largest state systems, have signed on to ultimately use these tests as college placement tools.

Finally, it is a requirement of the federal grant to both consortia that each develop a college ready assessment that colleges and universities will use to determine whether the student is placed into entry-level, credit bearing courses.

Allison Jones
Vice President for Postsecondary Collaboration, Achieve


  1. I am puzzled by the phrase “college and career ready.” Are those two separate kinds of readiness or one? Does “career ready” mean ready for a career upon graduation from high school that does not require a college degree? Or does it refer to being ready to take college ready courses that will, ultimately, lead to a career? If the latter, is PARCC assuming that all student who graduate high school should be ready for college?

    • Last year at this time, I was bamboozled by the thought of career readiness and college readiness meaning the same thing. I had thought they were different “readinesses” requiring different skill sets and that the nation was ready to embrace the separateness of a work force skills and college skills. That thought quickly vanished in April, 2011, when I read a slide in the minutes on the NYS Board of Regents defining College Ready = Career Ready. This equality has been justified by stating that the skills necessary for a productive career with a decent salary, benefits, and retirement options overlap significantly with the skills necessary to be successful in college, ergo the phrase and implied sameness of career and college ready.

  2. One more question. Why has PARCC decided that college ready means ready for college algebra? Why not a college course in statistics, which is the only college-level math course taken by thousands of students not pursuing a STEM degree?

    • I agree, why is it assumed that all students still need to take College Algebra. Statistics is the much better choice for students needing to hone critical thinking skills via justification through proper interpretation of statistical concepts. For many non-STEM majors, College Algebra would be a meaningless exercise in mathematical gymnastics.