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PARCC Cut Scores to Differ by PARCC State?

September 11, 2015

In Spring 2015, a number of states and DC administered Pearson-vended PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests, supposedly aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which CCSS proponents assume surely translates into the well-marketed “college and career readiness.”

Ten states and DC entered into contracts with Pearson for the 2015 PARCC tests, with just over half of Massachusetts districts choosing to use PARCC. As for Louisiana, it had no contract with Pearson for PARCC and instead gave tests that PARCC now nebulously describes as “included items developed though the PARCC process.”

That was spring 2015. As for 2016, Louisiana will not be giving an entire PARCC test. (The 2015 legislature forbade contracting with PARCC for 2016 assessments and put a limit that less than half of 2016 assessment items could be PARCC items.) Too, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Ohio will not participate in PARCC in 2016.

So, as of this writing, for 2016, PARCC is down to seven states and DC.

Keep in mind that the whole point of PARCC was to provide ueber-standardized assessments to accompany ueber-standardized CCSS. The US Department of Education (USDOE) paid for both PARCC and Smarter Balanced to somehow “help meet the President’s goal of restoring, by 2020, the nation’s position as the world leader in college graduates.”

USDOE just knew that CCSS tied to PARCC/Smarter Balanced would magically translate into America’s Leading the World in College Grads.

Despite USDOE certainty that CCSS-tied PARCC would be instrumental in ensuring USA world educational dominance, on September 10, 2015, Catherine Gewertz of EdWeek reported that PARCC cowered in the face of supposedly-finalized, cut-score publicity:

PARCC set cut scores for its tests but did not want to publicize all of the cut scores it set.

However, before the end of the day on September 10, 2015, PARCC decided to release all of the cut scores they set. Gewertz reports:

UPDATE: PARCC decided Thursday afternoon to release the rest of the cut scores. Updated “mock” score reports on its website, which had earlier had placeholder numbers for cut scores, now show the actual cut scores the board approved, according to PARCC assessment chief Jeff Nellhaus.  They are: 700 to score at Level 2, 725 to score at Level 3, and, as previously reported, 750 to score at Level 4. The cut point for Level 5 will vary somewhat by grade and subject, but will be around 803, Nellhaus said during a webinar for the Education Writers Association.

Even though PARCC fessed up the its entire set of cut scores, it did not offer details on how many students would fall into each score level. Given that PARCC used actual 2015 test results to set its cut scores, publicizing proportions of students “expected” to score in each score level would not be projections but actual results reported in sum– and before each PARCC state reported its state results– assuming that all 2015 PARCC tests were examined in setting the cut scores.

There is another issue that likely contributed to PARCC’s initial unwillingness to release its cut scores:

It appears that the PARCC states still get to decide individually to reset those cut scores.

Consider this statement from Gewertz’s original September 10, 2015, post:

At a meeting in Washington, PARCC’s governing board voted to approve the cut scores for the English/language arts and math tests in grades 3-8. But it disclosed only one of the scores that mark the thresholds between the levels of mastery. On a scale of 650 to 850, students will need to score a 750 to reach Level 4, which in grades 3-8 connotes a “strong command” of the standards, and in high school signifies college readiness. …

PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin would say only that states are still finalizing their data, so it’s too early to disclose how students performed on the test, which was given for the first time this past spring.

Question: Why would states’ “finalizing their data” prevent publicizing a set of cut scores that was supposedly just finalized?

Answer: Because PARCC states have the option to change the cut scores.

Below is the final statement from the PARCC web page dated September 10, 2015, entitled, “Setting Cut Scores”:

With the conclusion of performance level setting last week, the work of these 200 or so educators will go to the PARCC states, whose state education commissioners/superintendents will make the final call on what level or work shows each level of performance. That, in turn, sets the stage for the release of the first-ever PARCC score results this fall. [Emphasis added.]

So. All of that standardization that USDOE tried to promote in purchasing PARCC assessments to accompany CCSS now debuts as nine states and DC fully contracting in 2015 with Pearson for a PARCC test with cut scores that in the end are allowed to vary by PARCC state.

What a waste of resources.

See also my September 12, 2015, follow-up post, More on PARCC and Its Cut Scores.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books



  1. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    And are the scores just being released now, Sept.?

  2. And the taxpayer is paying for this farce. Heads must roll !

  3. LAEducator permalink

    Gee, how will John White interpret our Louisiana students’ scores in such a way as to minimize achievement in traditional school districts across the state while trumpeting improvement in the RSD charters? I guess we will find out. He will probably have to lose more than a few RSD PARCC scores as he did with the ACT scores just to break even. It’s just too bad that all the real education data for Louisiana schools from 1989 through 2011 has been destroyed by JW. If we are lucky enough to get a governor (JBE) who will stand up for public education & replace JW with an educator instead of a “reformer” (deformer?),we will have to start again from scratch. That is assuming that the national landscape allows us to do so. I fear that in the time it takes to crawl out of this hole here in Louisiana (if that is possible), we will have lost a generation of students who were battered by Katrina as babies & finished off by the inanity of CCSS. When will the last proponents of CCSS among the local (& national, for that matter) public finally come to the realization that our post -CCSS students are no more college & career ready than they were before? From my vantage point, exactly the opposite is happening.

  4. around the pond permalink

    PARCC released its cut scores on Thursday, and then the Commissioner of Ed in Massachusetts released this on Friday (9/11/15) :

    “The state education officials who make up PARCC’s Governing Board voted this week to set cut scores for the assessment. The scale scores will range from 650 to 850, and Level 4 will start at 750. (At the high school level, a score in Level 4 or higher signifies college and career readiness. In the lower grades, it signifies readiness for the next level.) More information is available online.”

    “States that administered PARCC in spring 2015 will receive their scores in two blocks: high school and grades 3-8. Each state is releasing its own scores according to their own timetable. The Department will share results in the coming weeks and months for districts that chose to use PARCC.”

    A few thoughts about the Commissioner’s bulletin and it implications:

    The bulletin avoids mentioning that our own Commissioner in MA leads the group of state education officials who set the cut scores.

    It repeats the trope that a high score on PARCC is proof of readiness for college or career.

    It does not mention that state Commissioner’s may set their own cut scores.

    The MA Board of Ed is sticking to a timetable in which they will vote to adopt PARCC permanently or stick with our current state exams BEFORE the PARCC data are released to parents and the public.

    Massachusetts may be in great shape in terms of overall test scores (check out our achievement gaps by race, income, and IEP status for a not-so-pretty picture), but that is getting in the way, I believe, of generating the momentum seen in NY and elsewhere against high-stakes tests. Maybe this fall the tide will turn once PARCC scores are released. But at that point, the damage may have been done a Board vote in favor of PARCC.

    • Notice this info is posted the day after PARCC reluctantly released the details of all cut scores, yet the MA release remains undefined for all but the 750.

  5. stefananders323323 permalink

    I notice that the cut/passing score is exactly mid-point. Scale scores are also not the same as percentages. Makes me wonder if the cut score is really related to the bell-shaped curve.

  6. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Uh.Let me see if I got this straight…
    My understanding is that some “chosen” educators (I have no idea how one gets on the team that spent time in Denver together) looked at the results of the tests that were administered and decided the cut scores (after the fact; after our young people took the tests). THEN the Superintendents/Commissioners of the remaining nine PARCC states were given the power to determine the cut scores for the students/teachers/schools in their individual states – arbitrary,different cut scores determined by politicians in each of the states. These scores will soon be released to parents with authority. I didn’t think I could get more disgusted by high stakes standardized testing, but I have arrived at complete and utter outrage.We have arrived at a tests that are completely HIGH STAKES and not even “standardized”.

  7. Mercedes, the PARCC states set common cut scores together and adopted common PARCC performance levels. Each state will release results on its own timeline.

    • Then let PARCC note as much clearly on its website. As it stands, that final bit of info that I cite does not clearly support what you have just written.

    • Jill Reifschneider permalink

      When you say “PARCC states set common cut scores together”, who was actually involved in that? Does that mean that every PARCC state has the same cut scores? Is there a deadline to release scores? It has been a long time since students took these tests. What you state here is not what I understand to be the method of determining cut scores for PARCC from what I read on the PARCC website. It is not clear at all whether scores will be released before students start taking the next round of tests.
      Transparency is lacking, clarity is lacking, and credibility is lacking in this very expensive, stressful, and time-consuming process, especially for those on the receiving end of the seemingly experimental, yet consequential, assessment. PARCC has authority. PARCC has power. How PARCC has earned such status?

    • David, why did you decide not to issue a press release about Hanna Skandera becoming PARCC chair?

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