Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coming clean on how we determine proficiency in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Education recently sent an interesting letter to the U.S. Department of Education.  The letter, seen here, requests a waiver that would exempt Michigan from meeting the No Child Left Behind requirement that all students reach 100% proficiency on state assessments by 2014. The reason this request is made is because Michigan is instituting new cut scores on tests starting this fall.

What are cut scores?

The state divides the scores on state assessments into four categories - advanced, proficient, partially proficient, and not proficient. Students who score in the advanced and proficient categories are said to have passed the test.  Correspondingly, students in the partially proficient and not proficient categories are said to have not passed the test.

The state is raising the cut point next year.  No longer will a student be able to "pass" the test by getting 18 answers correct out of 53 questions as was done last year on the 3rd grade math MEAP test.  In other words, last year, with the cut scores that were in place, the state certified that a student was proficient if they got 34% of the questions correct.

I applaud the state for raising the cut scores and making proficient mean something.  What I am puzzled by is why the cut scores were so low in the first place.  No parent and no teacher would claim that a student is proficient if they only got 34% of the answers correct.

We need a system that clearly and honestly identifies the skills and knowledge that our students have.  Without it we give every student and every parent a false sense of who the student is and what the student can do.  That does not prepare a student for what is ahead in life.

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