Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Commentary on Illinois resetting proficiency cut scores on ISAT

Illinois, like many other states, regularly resets cut scores for establishing proficiency levels on state tests. Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction provides a resource page that describes the procedure used in Wisconsin to set cut points (done in 1997 and again in 2003). It also provides references to many other states that use the same procedure. There is little doubt that stock high stakes tests don't map well onto learning standards set by individual states. T

here is a tension between appropriate "scope and sequence" and what the test measures. Some states may require local history to be taught in grade 6, but the externally purchased social studies exam focuses more on U.S. history. The proficiency scores would need to be set that provided a fair report on students' opportunity to learn the content on the test.

This article points to the other tension in this setting. There is a natural incentive for group setting cut points to make NCLB requires "a little more achievable" by lowering expectations. Even if that is not the intent, the threat of high stakes can make outsiders question the motivation of committees charged with this work.

This is part of the price we pay for federalism. Local control at the state and local level means that local constituencies have more control over what gets taught - even as they have less control over what gets measured.


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