The following multipart (multiplechoice and fillintheblank) question, explained here in hopes of helping algebra students in Maryland and Illinois prepare for the tests in algebra 1, as defined by the Common Core State Standards, appears on the released version of PARCC’s Spring 2017 test in algebra 1:
Part A
At a clothing store, Ted bought 4 shirts and 2 ties for a total price of $95. At the same store, Stephen bought 3 shirts and 3 ties for a total price of $84. Each shirt was the same price, and each tie was the same price. Which system of equations can be used to find s, the cost of each shirt in dollars, and t, the cost of each tie in dollars?
A 

B 

C 

D 
Part B
Linda bought 1 shirt and 2 ties at the same store. What is the total price, in dollars and cents, of Linda’s purchase?
Enter your answer in the box.
Analysis of this question
The question can be delivered online only in Part B, and an appropriate list of incorrect answers for the $36.50 would have to be developed, probably parallel to the various systems in Part A, although, as shown, some of those are total nonsense. This means a parallel setup with multiple choice options for incorrect answers in Part B, for use with students who need to take the test on paper, would suffer from comparability.
The question is aligned to the Common Core math standard to which it purports to align.
No special accommodation challenges can be identified with this question, other than the possible clue students would get for Part A with a Part B set of options that lack a parallel price for the answer choice made by the student in Part A. Still, I would consider the question fair.
A slight editorial issue arises in the writing of the question. Since math students are often taught to represent variables with a single letter or symbol, it would have been better to use first names that don’t start with the same letter as the articles of clothing. For example, both “Stephen” and “shirt” start with “s,” and both “Ted” and “tie” start with “t.” When the letter appears in the equation, students are required to look a few times to make sure it’s representing the price for a shirt and tie, rather than the number of items purchased by Stephen or Ted. I only bring this up because keeping variables straight like that, in the context of the problem, is unrelated to the construct being assessed with the question, which is solving a system of linear equations (2 equations in 2 unknowns). Introducing a tricky naming convention is unwise and may mislead students, causing them to answer the question in the wrong frame of mind or reference.