Rising Scores Might Say More About the Exam Than Student Achievement, Report Concludes

Monday, October 22, 2007

A new report from an education think tank in Washington contends that states are creating a false impression of academic success through, among other tactics, manipulation of passing, or "cut," scores on standardized tests.

Backers of the federal No Child Left Behind law say that rising pass rates on state tests nationwide are evidence that the law's focus on reading and math has led to gains in student achievement.

But the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's report, "The Proficiency Illusion," released Oct. 4, questions those claims. It concludes:

- State tests vary greatly in difficulty. Among states studied, Colorado, Wisconsin and Michigan had some of the lowest proficiency standards in reading and math, while South Carolina, California and Massachusetts had some of the highest.

- Rising pass rates are tied to declines in difficulty of the tests, including declines in estimated cut scores.

- Math tests are consistently more difficult to pass than reading tests. In Colorado, Idaho, Delaware, Washington state, New Mexico, Montana and Massachusetts, the spread between eighth-grade reading and math cut scores was estimated at greater than 10 percentile points. "Such a discrepancy in expectations," the report contended, "can yield the impression that students are performing better in reading than in math when that isn't necessarily the case."

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