Drawing the line on proficiency with new Common Core testing

Drawing the line on proficiency with new Common Core testing

(Fla.) Although most states have adopted college and career ready standards, many are still grappling with the issue of setting student proficiency levels on new state assessments – something both Illinois and Arizona have recently addressed

On the other hand, Colorado maintained lower targets for proficiency, giving the impression that more students are prepared for college than truly are, according to a recent report from the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

“Most states recently upgraded their academic expectations,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of the foundation, which conducted the survey by comparing 2013 student test scores on state assessments to their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress

“This was badly needed and long overdue, but it’s going to be an empty gesture if we don’t accurately gauge whether students are meeting those expectations,” she told Cabinet Report.

Complicating the landscape is the large variation in how states define “proficiency,” according to a recent report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, which noted that in states with the lowest expectations, what was considered proficient was three to four grade levels below what states with the highest cut marks expected.

So far, three states were further evaluated by the foundation: Colorado, Illinois and Arizona.

It found that in Colorado, low proficiency expectations conveyed a false sense of student achievement, and nearly 170,000 freshmen entering two-year colleges required remediation, as did more than 21,000 entering four-year colleges.

Glaring examples of low proficiency benchmarks were set in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math.

State-administered test results from 2013 indicated that 68 percent of students in fourth grade were proficient readers; the national assessment showed that number was closer to 41 percent.

Similarly, 67 percent of students were considered proficient in mathematics in eighth grade according to statewide tests, while only 40 percent were if judged by national exam results.

“Rigging the scoring system to ensure more students pass tests is lying to families and the public,” Levesque said. “Even worse, it is setting up kids for failure after high school graduation when they find themselves unprepared for college, a career or even military enlistment.”

In a statement made last week, Levesque said Arizona had been on the same track, and had been painting a “picture of overwhelming success,” despite a 49-point gap between fourth grade reading scores on state and national assessments.

The state’s new test – the AzMERIT – was created after adoption of the Common Core State Standards and adjusted to include more in-depth assessments of a student’s subject knowledge.

According to the foundation, results from the 2015 assessment do not show that scores are plummeting, but are more accurate representations of the lower proficiency rates that have been present in recent years. This will allow educators to make meaningful changes to help overcome the issue.

In Illinois, the State Board of Education voted last week to approve a higher threshold for proficiency on the state’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams. Levesque said that similar to the situation in Arizona, higher expectations for proficiency will help children succeed in the long run.

“It is difficult to confront the reality that most kids are not where they need to be academically,” Levesque said. “But it also is necessary.”

...read more