Look at this table and ask yourself “Which level would I want my child to achieve?”
|Level 4||Thorough understanding of/ability to apply skills|
|Level 3||Adequate understanding of/ability to apply skills|
|Level 2||Partial understanding of/ability to apply skills|
|Level 1||Minimal understanding of/ability to apply skills|
Common sense says that nearly everyone would want their child to be a 3 or 4, and that a 1 or 2 would raise concerns. No one – parents, students, teachers, administrators or policy makers – should be satisfied that students have only “partial” or “minimal” understanding of a subject.
But recently I attended a State School Board of Education public meeting and came away with the strong impression that the Board is planning to set statewide requirements for graduation at a level “2” rather than “3”. This is a real problem, and one all parents should be concerned about.
In high school, students are required to attain a “cut” (or “exit”) score in some core subjects to earn a high school diploma (math, English Language Arts and eventually science). This year Washington is replacing its old statewide tests (High School Proficiency Exams and End-of-Course exams) with new ones aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
The new tests – Smarter Balanced Assessments – set Achievement Level scores on a 1-to-4 scale, as detailed in the chart above.
The State Board believes that “exit exams are part of a meaningful high school diploma” and that graduation requirements should reflect the “performance levels associated with career and college readiness.” We all know that colleges and employers want our students to demonstrate at least an “adequate” level of proficiency, if not more. That’s why exit scores on statewide tests matter.
By law, the State Board is tasked with setting the cut score that students must attain to earn a high school diploma. Because we are switching to new exams, the State Board and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) have expressed concern about the fairness of holding current high schoolers who were not taught to the new state standards in their middle and high school years to a “proficiency” score of “3”. The State Board is also concerned that a “3” cut score could negatively impact high school graduation rates. In fact, the Board has stated it wants the new “cut” score set so as to ensure high school graduation rates remain about the same as they did under the old tests.
In my public comments at the Board of Education meeting, I stressed that setting a cut score below 3 (“adequate”) adversely impacts students in the opportunity gap. Others who testified, including students, community leaders and a Seattle public school teacher, offered similar reasons for supporting a “3” (and not a “2”) as the cut score.
While there are genuine concerns about lower test scores and, by extension, graduation rates dropping, our response to these concerns should be one that remains committed to the value of high standards for every student. Time and again we’ve seen lowering standards hurts students in the opportunity gap the most. That’s because parents with resources have more options to either enhance learning outside of school hours or to advocate for better services at their school. In fact, lowering standards too often means students who need extra help won’t receive it, because their academic performance on paper seems ‘good enough.’ We can and must set high standards for all students, and provide those who need it the necessary supports to achieve them.
A high school diploma in the state of Washington should reflect more than a “partial” or “minimal” understanding of skills and content mastered. And an exit exam score should not be reverse-engineered for the primary purpose of hitting a certain graduation rate target. When we step on a scale, it tells us how much we weigh. Adjusting the scale down five pounds doesn’t mean we’ve lost five pounds. It just means we don’t know how much we weigh anymore.
Want to provide your thoughts on this issue to the State Board? Go to this blog post at their website and submit your comments here.