On the surface, the state’s education board is going to make one more in a series of procedural decisions at Tuesday’s meeting, as part of a gradual transition to stronger academic standards in public schools.
But the vote on so-called “cut scores” is of greater significance than it might appear. Cut scores are the grading scale, with students graded as scoring “basic,” “approaching basic” or the other levels used for scoring in the former LEAP tests.
The right decision is to choose cut scores allowing Louisiana’s students’ results to be compared with those in a dozen other states taking the same new tests. Our students scoring at the “mastery” level would be performing as well as those in Massachusetts or elsewhere taking the same test.
Do we want a grading scale that compares with the other states? Or do we want to put our grading scale at an artificially lower level to make ourselves feel good about public education’s performance?
We hope the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education holds firm on its commitment to improved academic standards and valid comparisons with the states adopting the PARCC test — cut scores that align with other states and nationally developed tests like the ACT college test.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, taken by about 320,000 students this spring, replaces the old Louisiana Educational Assessment Program tests that formerly guided Louisiana’s system of accountability for schools. PARCC’s test is consistent with the new Common Core academic benchmarks that have generated political controversy and much more heat than light over the past couple of years.
By adopting the cut scores, BESE directs the state Department of Education to proceed with Superintendent John White’s plan to methodically assess the scores and provide for parents and teachers a more detailed report on what skills students mastered in the new tests, and what they fell short on.
While the phrase “Common Core” has become politically radioactive, that’s only a part of a larger whole, a new assessment of what individual students know and how well they can think their way through problems.
That’s worth the controversy, and worth the elaborate new studies embarked upon under political pressure by the department to improve the current benchmarks. But it is absolutely vital, in our view, that today and in the future, BESE and the state department are committed to raising academic standards for schools.
The new PARCC tests, previewed for the press by White on Monday, have been a little tougher on math scores, with modest erosion of English test scores. Not so bad, given our rates of poverty and economic and social problems.
As White said, it’s where we go from here that is important.
We’re aiming for an educational trifecta in the long term: tests aligned with other states so we can tell if Louisiana’s A-rated schools are really nationally competitive; tests that guide teachers in helping students with the skills they’re having trouble with; and gradually tougher school performance scores, so that students graduate ready for college or technical training.
Since 1999, Louisiana’s accountability program has been built on a bedrock of high-stakes assessments but a trajectory of continuous improvement. Today’s new tests will guide the increases in school performance scores over the next decade.