Regents endorse adjusting cut scores for 3 through 8 state tests

Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 4:45 pm by

As expected, the state Board of Regents today endorsed Education Commissioner David Steiner’s rationale for adjusting “cut scores” on the state’s grade 3-8 math and English assessments.

A news release from the State Education Department explains that the decision is “…based on research that clearly suggests the need to more accurately indicate ‘proficiency’ on those exams.”

School, district, and statewide results from these tests will be released during the week of July 26.

A webcast of Commissioner Steiner’s presentation to the Regents is available here.  The slides he used are available here.

I see two key statistical points in the Department’s rationale for the changes.

First, sharp gains in students demonstrating proficiency on state assessments have not been matched by corresponding gains by New York students on the National Assessment of educational Progress (slide 15).

The second point involves correlations between success on 3 through assessments, on Regents Exams, and in college.

  • Students who scored below an 80 on the Regents Math A Exam (for example) had a slim chance of taking a college-level math class in their first semester in college (slide 7); and
  • Students who scored at the cut-point (demonstrating proficiency) on the 8th grade state math assessment have only a one in three chance of scoring an 80 or better on the Math Regents (slide 19).

In the SED news release, Senior Deputy Commissioner John King said,

The data shows that schools responded to the assignment they were given – they worked hard to help students achieve standards as measured by the state tests that were being given at that time. And more students did, in fact, pass those tests. The problem is that those exams didn’t sufficiently test students’ abilities – the bar was set too low.

In his presentation, the Commissioner said, “For sure, our teachers, and our principals, and our superintendents put their shoulder to the wheel and results on the knowledge we tested got better…  Let no one say that our teachers or our principals in any way failed.”

The Commissioner stressed problems with how the math tests were designed, comparing them to beams of light that illuminated narrow areas of curriculum and kept illuminating (testing) the same areas.  This led teachers, families and students to focus on mastering those areas.

Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch  put the initiative in a larger context,

‘Proficiency’ on our exams has to mean something real; no good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child is not. So we’re improving our assessments by raising cut scores, making the exams less predictable, testing more areas, and making the tests longer. But more rigorous exams are only one piece of the Regents broader reform vision – a vision that includes a more challenging curriculum, better training for teachers and principals, and a world-class data system.

To avoid inflicting a significant new cost on districts after they have adopted annual budgets, the Regents also approved a temporary change in how state test results are used in determining which students need Academic Intervention Services (i.e., remedial help).

Over the weekend, the Syracuse Post-Standard ran an interview with SED Senior Deputy Commissioner John King and the Middletown Times Herald Record published a column by Sullivan BOCES superintendent Larry Thomas.

Writing on behalf of the Sullivan County school superintendents, Mr. Thomas “we applaud the new directions being set by New York state’s new educational leadership” but warned that there will be “bumps in the road” to higher standards, including when SED releases results from tests applying the new cut scores later this month.

The Regents’ concern with the state testing program predates Dr. Steiner’s arrival as Commissioner last October.  The Department’s news release noted,

In May 2009, the Regents directed that the state ELA and math tests be moved from January (ELA) and March (math) to late April and early May beginning in 2010 so that the exams could cover more material. The Regents also requested a thorough review of the Testing Program to ensure higher achievement standards and valid and reliable test scores that would reflect the appropriate level of rigor to ensure college and career readiness.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 4:45 pm and is filed under Standards & Assessments. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.