State Test Scores Adjusted to Match Last Year

Sandy Cullen:

A new statewide assessment used to test the knowledge of Wisconsin students forced a lowering of the curve, a Madison school official said.
The results showed little change in the percentages of students scoring at proficient and advanced levels.
But that’s because this year’s Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations- Criterion Referenced Tests proved harder for students than last year’s assessment, said Kurt Kiefer, director of research and evaluation for the Madison School District, prompting adjustments to the statewide cut-off scores for determining minimal, basic, proficient and advanced levels that were in line with last year’s percentages, Kiefer said.
“The intent was not to make a harder test,” Kiefer said, adding that the test was particularly more difficult at the eighth- and 10th-grade levels. “It had nothing to do with how smart the kids were.”
While scores can differ from district to district, Kiefer said, increases in students testing proficient and advanced are not as profound as districts might have hoped.

Kevin Carey recently wrote how states inflate their progress under NCLB:

But Wisconsin’s remarkable district success rate is mostly a function of the way it has used its flexibility under NCLB to manipulate the statistical underpinnings of the AYP formula.

I’m glad Sandy is taking a look at this.
UW Emeritus Math Professor Dick Askey mentioned changes in state testing during a recent Math Curriculum Forum:

We went from a district which was above the State average to one with scores at best at the State average. The State Test was changed from a nationally normed test to one written just for Wisconsin, and the different levels were set without a national norm. That is what caused the dramatic rise from February 2002 to November 2002. It was not that all of the Middle Schools were now using Connected Mathematics Project, which was the reason given at the meeting for these increases.

Alan Borsuk has more:

This year’s results also underscore a vexing question: Why does the percentage of students who are proficient or advanced drop from eighth to 10th grades? The decline was true almost across the board, including across ethnic groups, except in language arts. In reading statewide, the percentage of students who were advanced and proficient held close to steady from third through eighth grade and then dropped 10 points, from 84% to 74% for 10th grade. The decline was even steeper for black and Hispanic students – in each case, 17-point drops from eighth to 10th grade.
Overall, lower test scores at 10th grade are part of a broader picture of concern about how students are doing in high school that has put that level of education on the front burner nationwide, whether it is special programming from Oprah Winfrey or efforts by the National Governors Association, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or others.
But assistant state schools superintendent Margaret Planner said one factor in the 10th-grade drop simply might be that many students at that level do not take the tests very seriously. Their own standing is not affected by how they do, although the status of their school could be affected seriously. She referred to the tests as “low stakes” for students and “high stakes” for schools under the federal education law.

Planner was most recently principal at Madison’s Thoreau Elementary School.
Madison Metrpolitan School District’s press release.

2 thoughts on “State Test Scores Adjusted to Match Last Year”

  1. We noticed the drop off in test scores between 8th and 10th or 11th grade in data from Rapid City schools in the late 1990s to the early 2000s. It seems to be a common trend no matter what the test or the state.
    When I broke down the Rapid City data it showed that the top-scoring 5-10 percent or so of the kids in 8th grade (who had access to AP or honors classes in high school) maintained or increased their test scores in high school. The low-scoring 8th grade kids were essentially in deep trouble freshman year and many had either dropped out or gone into alternative programs. Thus, over half of the lowest-scoring 8th graders were not around to be tested in 10th grade. The average kids slipped a few points, but the biggest declines in scores from 8th to 10th grades were found in those bright students who scored just under the top tier students and who didn’t have access to AP or honors classes.
    My feeling is if this second tier of students can be elevated into the AP/honors classes in high school, they will do better. Unfortunately, the trend is to homogenize rather than elevate.

  2. There may be another reason besides “not taking the test seriously” that was offered by DPI officials. Could it be that many students who were marginal or “bubble” students in elementary schools enter middle school not reading proficiently, and then start the downward spiral because their basic cognitive abilities have gaps? A growing number of medical imaging studies comparing children who have reading difficulties with proficient readers have identified marked differences in brain activity during reading activity that should tell us something about what needs to be done. As students transition from elementary classes focused on “learning to read” to middle school where they “read to learn”, their cognitive gaps show up rapidly. Brain plasticity researchers have identified methods that can remove those gaps, but it gets more difficult to intervene as students become more frustrated with themselves. It is also more difficult to wedge interventions into school schedules because course credits for graduation overrule the need to first garner the cognitive tools to become effective learners. Finally, since most teaching of reading ends by 5th grade, there is a derth of reading/literacy teachers at the middle and high school levels, leaving those students to a wide range of interventions based less on research than hunches. If your student is one of the many who struggle to learn effectively in MMSD while the “high flyers” succeed wonderfully, you must be wondering just why that is…

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