Friday, December 27, 2013

A difficult transition . . .

In going through my blog file for post ideas two articles by Catherine Gerwetz in Education Week are at the top and follow conversations we had in our latest Teacher Leadership learning opportunity.  In the first she shares how states are grappling with common test score cutoffs for measuring career ready and in the second she follows that up with the problems associated with making the cut scores NAEP-like.

The issue of cut score is very important as we enter a new era of accountability aligned with common core standards beginning for many of our grades in the spring of 2014 with full implementation in the spring of 2015.  We are already experiencing some of the issues associated with this as we transition this year to assessments aligned with the common core that use some Smarter Balanced released items and scoring rubrics.  As accountability with these assessments becomes a reality and as questions of grades and graduation become tied to them we begin to see the push back she shares in her articles.

I am particularly intrigued by this issue of tying them to a NAEP standard.  As shared in the article, this is a high standard that could and probably would result in significant political backlash with the predicted low scores.  In 2013 fewer than 4 in 10 reached the proficient level in the reading and math assessments administered across the country.

W. James Popham, a governing board member who also sits on Smarter Balanced's technical advisory committee, said that while state schools chiefs "have a vested interest" in setting cut scores that minimize political fallout, technical advisors to a testing project push for a higher cut score because they don't want their test to be seen as weak.

He worried that "in the quest to look good... NAEP might be playing too dominant" a role in setting performance standards for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. When the NAEP cut scores were set, Popham noted, they were intended to be "aspirational." Setting PARCC and SBAC "college ready" scores at that level of rigor has states "frightened," he said.

Patricia Wright, Virginia's superintendent of public instruction, said that states "like to be ambitious, but [NAEP-like proficiency cut scores] may not be the cut scores we want to set if we want to maintain our accountability systems."

Will the predicted low scores result in a common core cuts score different than the cut scores used by states for graduation purposes?  If different cut scores become a reality, will graduation cut scores across the states be the same?  I believe that there will be two sets of cut scores that result from implementing common core state assessments that will lead to more criticism for our public schools.  I also question if "aspirational" as measured by the NAEP should drive the proficient cut score and agree with those that say this should be a long term change process given a chance to succeed before it is destroyed by short term posting of results on assessments administered before we are given the resources and time to prepare them.

When using the mastery levels of PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests in policymaking, states would be wise to "set goals that are stretch-but-not-break," said Kati Haycock, the president of the Washington-based Education Trust, which advocates policies that help disadvantaged students.

"When you ask yourself how many kids are hitting that [NAEP] level of proficiency now, and ask yourself how fast we can move systems and kids," she said, "there is no way this is anything less than a 10-year transition."

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