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October 4, 2007

Wisconsin's Low State Test Score Standards ("The Proficiency Illusion")

Alan Borsuk:

The study found that "cut scores" - the line between proficient and not proficient - vary widely among the 26 states, casting doubt on the question of what it means when a state says a certain percentage of its students are doing well. Those percentages are central to the way the federal No Child Left Behind education law works.

The law's accountability system, which focuses on things such as whether a school or district is making "adequate yearly progress," is driven largely by how many students meet the standards a state sets for proficiency in reading and math. The goal is that all students, with a handful of exceptions, be proficient by 2014.

"Five years into implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, there is no common understanding of what 'proficiency' means. . . . This suggests that the goal of achieving '100 percent proficiency' has no coherent meaning, either," says a summary of the study, issued by the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

To illustrate the differences among the states, the study's authors gave an example in which a fourth-grader in Wisconsin would be regarded as proficient if the child could correctly answer a fairly simple question involving cats and dogs, while a child in Massachusetts would not be proficient if he or she couldn't answer a formidable question about the meaning of a passage by Leo Tolstoy.

From the Fordham Institute report:
Cats and Dogs vs. Tolstoy

This is a fourth-grade item with a difficulty equivalent to Wisconsin's proficiency cut score (16th percentile).

Which sentence tells a fact, not an opinion?

A. Cats are better than dogs.

B. Cats climb trees better than dogs.

C. Cats are prettier than dogs.

D. Cats have nicer fur than dogs.

This is a fourth-grade item with a difficulty equivalent to Massachusetts' proficiency cut score (65th percentile).

Read the excerpt from "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy

So Pahom was well contented, and everything would have been right if the neighboring peasants would only not have trespassed on his wheatfields and meadows. He appealed to them most civilly, but they still went on; now the herdsmen would let the village cows stray into his meadows, then horses from the night pasture would get among his corn. Pahom turned them out again and again, and forgave their owners, and for a long time he forbore to prosecute anyone. But at last he lost patience and complained to the District Court.

What is a fact from this passage?

A. Pahom owns a vast amount of land.

B. The peasant's intentions are evil.

C. Pahom is a wealthy man.

D. Pahom complained to the District Court.

Source: Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The correct answers are B for the first item and D for the second.

Fordham Institute Study.

Much more on Wisconsin's Knowledge & Concepts Exam here [RSS], including a recent Madison School Board Performance & Achievement Committee discussion on using WKCE to "Measure Student Performance". Clusty Search on WKCE.

Ian Shapira:

A new study of state achievement tests offers evidence that the No Child Left Behind law's core mission -- to push all students to score well in reading and math -- is undermined by wide variations in how states define a passing score.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at October 4, 2007 5:35 AM
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