What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Here’s the lead from an education story in today’s Washington Post.

Knowing State Tests’ ‘Cut’ Scores
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2007; Page B01

Charonda Godette and her mother are staring at a sheaf of black-and-white test reports in their kitchen, frustrated by a blunt indictment repeated over and over: “Fail/Does Not Meet.” In her first three years at Potomac Senior High School in Prince William County, the 17-year-old has flunked a slew of Virginia Standards of Learning exams: Earth science. Algebra II. And geometry — three times.

What also confounds Charonda and Carole Godette is something the reports omit. They do not show the number of correct answers required to pass the exams. (Boldface mine — Hugh)

There are a number of questions whirling about in my mind after reading this article, including:

1. Should state assessments model what best practices teach us about good assessment? (For example, good assessment includes useful feedback to increase learning and achievement.)

2. Would state education departments be playing such silly games (trying to second-guess teachers with regard to how they will teach the subject matter vis-a-vis the state “assessment”) if NCLB was out of the picture?

Folks, if this is the wave of the future, we are in deep yogurt. I’m scratching my head, trying to understand the value of concealing passing scores. Part of me thinks that if the teacher does good job reaching students and teaching the subject, the state tests will take care of themselves. But if we violate the integrity of assessment and try to make kids hit moving targets, aren’t we creating yet another distraction to getting the job done?

Yet more reasons, I believe, to abandon federal interference in state education.

If the feds want to do something, let the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith do its work, but contribute funding to states whose economies lag, and thereby level the playing fields.

I don’t mind some of my federal tax money going to another state that needs the help, if the feds would strip away the overlaying bureaucracy that currently wastes financial and emotional resources in every state.

Note: I intended to post tonight about what our district is doing to promote racial tolerance. I’m currently waiting for a report from our assistant supe in charge of operations, and curriculum and instruction. I’ll post as soon as I get the word. There’s a lot going on, including board of ed sessions to increase board member awareness of diversity and racial tolerance needs and challenges.
Artwork: Relativity by M.C. Escher, 1953, lithograph, 27.7 × 29.2 cm


7 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

  1. Sorry for the cussin’, Hugh, but the term is shit. We’re in deep shit, and they don’t give a fuck so long as they can generate their numbers. Sorry for sounding like a bitter veteran, but this is going downhill very very fast, and we’ haven’t done much to stop it. They’re not asking us often enough what we think about how their methods for our teaching really work out. Unfortunately, a lot of their research has been fabricated to manipulate their messages / politics.

    In any case, you’re right: we shouldn’t be telling them that these tests are education life or death and then not telling them what the rubric is or anything of that nature. In college, I understand some of the reasons for not having the final test score revealed, but these are little KIDS whose educational careers hinge on whether they can either be a 1-4.

  2. There are two separate things going on in your post. I can speak to the first one (cut scores), but the second would fill a dissertation or three. 🙂

    I sat on the committee that set the cut scores for science here in WA, so I understand a bit more about them than the average bear.

    They have to be a slightly moving target? Why? Because most of the test items are different from year to year. As a result, there is potential to end up with tests that are easier or harder from year to year…as well as kids who are (hopefully) better prepared as more teachers teach to the standards.

    What happens is that there are some anchor items that are used for two years in order to statistically compensate for all of this. The cut scores don’t drastically change: 38 points might be fine one year…then 37 the next.

  3. Jose, this is a tough subject. I’m not a big fan of state testing, especially not with the federal overlay.

    SG, thanks for bringing your experience and statistical insight to bear. I realize that the test can’t be the same from year to year for obvious reasons, so “moving target” may not have been an accurate choice of words. Maybe I should have said, “hazy target.” 😉

    Or what I really think of state testing…”useless, disconnected target.” (As in how many teachers have actually taught all the standard-related goals to their students? Not in Oregon, for sure. Our tests cover the entire year in April and teachers are still teaching until June!)

    I’m trying to express my frustration with state testing that seems to be driven by a seriously over-compulsive need for accountability to the feds.

    In any case, I don’t feel that assessment without feedback is supportable. Teachers should get individual student reports from the state to help students meet the requirements of the state in the future. Wouldn’t you agree?

    The data exists. Why not report it?

  4. Money.

    I hate to say it, but that’s why so little feedback is given each year. Tests are extraordinarily expensive beasts to develop—millions are invested in them. To have to build new ones each year (including retest opportunities) just isn’t cost effective. The states need to be able to “recycle” some items for two years before they release them along with relevant data.

    That being said, I definitely agree with you that the data and feedback would be very very useful to classroom teachers. I also agree that the tests are being used for the wrong reasons. In our state, I actually like the science test—I think it’s a good one; but I don’t like that it is used for accountability measures. It’s just a “dipstick” of what kids know on that one day. It shouldn’t be co-opted into AYP, decisions about placement in gifted programs, etc.

    Someday, we’ll rule the world and make these changes. 🙂

  5. I think passing scores of 52 percent and 60 percent are RIDICULOUSLY LOW. Everyone knows that below 70 percent on any exam is NOT passing. They probably do that so the percentages of students passing LOOKS decent in the district. Far better to make the test a little easier so that at least two-thirds of students can get passing scores of seventy percent, or higher. Are the test more difficult than they should be, OR is the students’ level far LOWER than it should be, is the question.

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

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