Cut Scores for Smarter Balanced and PARCC: Trying to Be Like NAEP
Both the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are looking to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to determine their cut scores– the scores that separate individual student scores into artificially-contrived achievement groupings.
It is important to remember that achievement categories are not natural groupings. Someone must create them and assign importance to them.
Both SBAC and PARCC once advertised their wares as “next generation assessments” that were supposed to be marvels surpassing the well-known “bubble” tests– of which NAEP is one.
However, it seems that the realities of time and money constraints have both SBAC and PARCC as indeed being “bubble” tests, and not only that– they are “bubble” tests with cut scores modeled after NAEP determinations of “proficiency.”
All newfangled assessment roads lead back to NAEP, a test with achievement levels that appear not to have been formally finalized and are long overdue to be re-examined themselves. That noted, NAEP “proficiency” should not be confused for “just passing.”
Of course, NAEP is also not “aligned” with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). However, if certain percentages of student scores are “expected,” for example, to “happen” to fit NAEP’s (overdue for reconsideration) distribution of “fewer than four in ten” students scoring “proficient” in 2013, then mastery of CCSS takes a back seat to an expected scoring distribution outcome.
All this for in-consortium, state-to-state “comparisons” financed by a White House administration on its way out in 2016. A Race to the Exit.
SBAC and PARCC involvement is much more political than it is educational. There is no other reason for NAEP high scorer Massachusetts to officially join PARCC other than the fact that Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester chairs the PARCC governing board. PARCC is struggling, and frankly, it looks bad for the PARCC governing chair to not have his state “all in.”
Chester says that PARCC “will give teachers better information about which kids need extra support.”
That’s not how it works. In-house diagnostics are more streamlined and timely than a consortium-based, annual assessment with delayed scoring.
But back to SBAC, PARCC, and NAEP.
Each state can decide the meaning of individual student scoring outcomes on PARCC and SBAC. Again, if states model their scoring after NAEP percentage outcomes (or the percentage outcomes of any previously administered standardized test), the issue becomes less about CCSS “mastery” and more about ranking— where a student scores relative to other test takers.
The issue also becomes one of state officials’ cut score decisions as determining other outcomes– including a state’s percentage of “failing” teachers and “failing” schools.
State cut score setting on high-stakes tests is not an “objective” process. It is highly subjective, and one in which the person setting the cut score wields incredible power to punish.
When I was an undergraduate at LSU, I had one course in which the professor told us on the first day that our class’ final grades would fit the normal distribution. The course was Evolutionary Psychology. The professor said there would be a few A’s and a few F’s. Based on his determination, it did not matter who dropped the course (i.e., if those most likely to score F’s dropped) or how many of those present on the first day completed the course. It also did not matter the degree to which individuals mastered the material– if a student wanted an A, that student had to rank higher than enough others in the room. As one might expect, this made for a tense, anxious classroom atmosphere, one in which students were reluctant to help one another lest the person one helped might outscore the helper. I did not enjoy this “every man for himself” class, and I was aware that other students were concerned about my grades. (Students I did not know openly verbalized as much.)
I have often thought of that Evolutionary Psychology class when considering the current atmosphere of punitive, test-score-driven, so-called “reform.”
In quite a different experience, my doctoral advisor had a policy that he roughly adhered to a ten-point scale to determine letter grades but that he would look at the scores of all students to see where the top scores “broke” (i.e., where there was a notable gap in scores) in order to place the cut score between A’s and B’s. This policy often translated into an eleven- or twelve-point “A” category in which the professor considered both degree of material mastery and scoring distribution characteristics.
The latter professor’s behavior encouraged both mastery of material and a cooperative learning atmosphere.
What America has with CCSS and its consortium tests, SBAC and PARCC, does not equal what the second professor above afforded his students. CCSS and its appendaged SBAC and PARCC do not encourage mastery of material and cooperative learning. No. These education-business-feeding creations encourage skills-based teaching and abundant test drill– neither of which have any influence on those cut scores. A teacher can spend every class period drilling students to take tests, but his/her efforts do not influence the setting of those power-wielding cut scores. The bureaucratic thinking that “raising” cut scores equates “forcing” better instruction from teachers and higher levels of learning from students is unsubstantiated nonsense.
I think it’s time for America to model our standardized testing after Finland.
It is unlike anything promoted by CCSS, SBAC or PARCC.
Click the link above to read Valerie Strauss’ reporting on the test administration schedule, question format, grading (first done by teachers of the students themselves), and sample questions.
A closing thought from Strauss’ post:
If your path brings you to learn in Finland, be prepared to engage in deep discussions about politics, religion, poverty, spiders, junk food, young people questioning authority and other topics absent from the tests you took in high school, regardless how you feel about these topics. College readiness is to be ready to deal with all aspects of the world we live in, not just those that resonate well with your own. [Emphasis added.]
Take a lesson, SBAC and PARCC.
(Thought it would be interesting to see salary based on hours per teaching time. American teachers work twice as long, including “bureaucratic responsibilities” that do not exist in Finland.)