Discussion - Raise the Bar For Cut Scores

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Plan for higher proficiency standards for state exams under discussion

By Lori Higgins
Free Press Education Writer

Scores on state achievement exams would take a nose dive and dramatically fewer schools would meet state and federal academic requirements under a plan being discussed today that would set the bar higher for passing the state exams.

The State Board of Education today is talking about a proposal to raise cut scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test and Michigan Merit Exam. Cut scores are essentially the cut-off for determining how well students must do on the exam to be considered proficient.

Currently, the cut scores are set at a level so low that students only need to demonstrate a basic understanding of the material.

The state board set them that low in 2006 because it had just adopted expectations for what students should know and wanted to give schools time to align their curriculum to reflect the higher expectations.

But officials today said it's time to raise those cut scores.

The current cut scores "are based on skills sufficient in an old manufacturing economy," said Joseph Martineau, director of educational assessment and accountability at the Michigan Department of Education.

The new cut scores should be set to reflect college and career readiness, Martineau said.

But raising the cut-off for being proficient means fewer students would pass the state exams.

For instance, if the proposed cut scores were in place in 2009, just 34% of third graders would pass the math exam, compared to 95% that passed under the current guidelines.

The impact would be even more dramatic for meeting the academic standards outlined by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Under current guidelines, 86% of schools meet the academic goals. But if the proposed cut scores were in place, only 34% would meet the goals.

The dip in test scores, Martineau said, is significant. "But we anticipate it will be a temporary dip. It will take some time, but we believe Michigan educators will respond and get there."

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan called the proposal "the most important thing we'll bring to you in the next few months."

Posted 1/1/11 – Source, Detroit Free Press