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What is the ELA Test?

What is the ELA Test?

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - February 26th, 2015

practicing for ELA test

The ELA test, or the English/Language Arts portion of the Common Core State Standards test, is just one of the parts of the Common Core that kids across the country need to do well on state tests. These tests can, in many states, determine whether your child will be able to advance to the next grade, so it’s important to make sure that they’re set up to do well.

It’s important to note that the ELA test doesn’t just consist of “English,” in the way that subject is generally construed. When people refer to the ELA test, they’re often talking about Common Core in general, which includes questions in math, science, social studies, and, of course, English.

The best way to prepare your child for the ELA test is to start off with the homework that they bring home from school. The purpose of the Common Core, as with all state tests, is to make sure that your child is learning what they’re supposed to in school, so using schoolwork as a baseline is a great idea. This is different than many IQ or achievement tests, where the material often differs from what your child is “used” to seeing.

PARCC vs. Smarter Balanced (SBAC)

The reality of the ELA test is that it’s changing day-to-day. Many states have opted out of the Common Core Standards, and others are looking likely to follow suit. Even in states that have implemented the “Common Core,” there are two different flavors: the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced, or SBAC test. While these two forms of the test share traits, there are important differences between the two, so it’s important to know which type of test your state gives. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) are two testing systems that were developed in response to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the United States. Both systems aim to provide measures of student achievement and readiness for college and careers. They share several similarities, but there are also some notable differences between the two.


  • Common Core Alignment: Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, meaning they are designed to measure student proficiency in the skills and knowledge outlined by these standards.
  • Grade Range: They both assess students from grades 3 through 8 and high school.
  • Computer-Based: Both assessments are primarily administered online, which allows for more interactive question types and faster delivery of results.
  • Inclusion of ELA and Math: Both assessments cover English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.


  • Test Design: PARCC assessments are divided into two main sections: a Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) and an End-of-Year Assessment (EOY). The PBA focuses on more complex tasks and is administered about three-quarters of the way through the school year, while the EOY, administered at the end of the school year, focuses on knowledge and skills acquired throughout the year. On the other hand, Smarter Balanced assessments are administered once, at the end of the year, and adapt to the test-taker. This means if a student answers a question correctly, the next question will be more challenging, and if a question is answered incorrectly, the next question will be less challenging.
  • Interim Assessments: Smarter Balanced offers optional interim assessments that can be used throughout the year to monitor student progress and provide teachers with actionable feedback. PARCC does not offer these interim assessments.
  • Writing Assessment: Writing is assessed in every grade in Smarter Balanced assessments. PARCC, however, only assesses writing at the high school level.
  • Consortium Membership: The membership of states in these consortiums differs. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, fewer states use the PARCC assessments compared to the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Preparing your child for the ELA test

If you’re feeling nervous about the ELA test, talk to your child’s teacher or to another school official. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction and also tell you how to make sure your child does well on the test.

In order to further aid your child’s preparation for the ELA test, consistent reading and writing exercises should be incorporated into their routine. Both the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced tests put a strong emphasis on reading comprehension and writing abilities. In addition to the text books, encourage your child to read a diverse range of genres and forms, such as novels, newspapers, and scientific articles. These will expose them to different writing styles and vocabulary, which could be beneficial for the test. Also, practicing writing summaries, essays, and arguments will help improve their analytical thinking and written communication skills, both essential for the ELA test.

Moreover, familiarize your child with the format of the test. As part of their homework, introduce them to practice tests which are easily accessible online. This will allow them to get comfortable with the question types and time constraints. Time management is a crucial aspect of these tests, so ensure they are well-practiced in completing the tasks within the given timeframe. Regular practice will also help reduce test anxiety, a common issue among students.

While academic proficiency is important, it’s also crucial to ensure your child’s emotional well-being during the preparation period. The pressure to perform well on these tests can be stressful for children. Remind them that while doing well is important, a test doesn’t define their worth or potential. Encourage them to take breaks, engage in physical activities, and pursue hobbies. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle will help them stay focused and motivated.

Lastly, parent-teacher communication plays a pivotal role in a child’s success. Regularly meet with your child’s teachers to discuss their progress, understand areas of improvement, and get recommendations for resources or strategies. Teachers can provide insights into your child’s strengths and weaknesses that you may not see at home. They can also offer valuable advice on how to tackle the ELA test based on their experience and expertise. Remember, the goal is to help your child become a confident, competent learner, and these tests are just a tool towards achieving that.

States the Use Smarter Balanced, PARCC or Neither

The use of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and Smarter Balanced assessment systems varies by state, and the situation can change year-to-year as states review and update their testing systems so check with your school district to determine which one they use.

States Using Smarter Balanced (SBAC):

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

States Using PARCC:

PARCC assessments have been phased out in many states due to various reasons, including pushback from parents and educators and technical glitches. It is important to verify this information from official sources as states can switch their standardized testing programs. Here are the ones that are currently using PARCC:

  • District of Columbia,
  • Louisiana (hybrid, and grades 3-8 only), and
  • Massachusetts (hybrid, and grades 3-10 only).

States Using Neither:

These states have their own state-developed standardized tests, or other tests like ACT Aspire or the SAT. Some of these states include:

  • Florida
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Massachusetts
  • Georgia
  • Alabama
  • Indiana
  • Alaska

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