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How Will Schools Fare under Common Core?
June 18, 2012
The recent controversy in Florida over the fourth grade passing rates for the FCAT writing exam has caused some speculation about the impact that tests linked to the new common core standards will have on school accountability. If the new content standards are more rigorous, and the passing scores on the new tests are more difficult, then fewer students will pass, right?
This is essentially what happened in Florida when the state Department of Education increased the cut score (or minimum score required) for proficiency on its state writing exams. The motivation for increasing the cut scores was to provide a more gradual transition between Florida’s current proficiency standards and the proficiency standards of the new tests linked to the new Common Core, which are anticipated to be more difficult. The impact on students’ FCAT scores was predictable, with passing rates of fourth graders decreasing from 81% in 2011 to 27% in 2012. So what did Florida state officials do? They retroactively lowered the cut scores to bring the 2012 passing rates back up to 2011 levels.
This highlights an important fact: student performance (and hence, school accountability) is primarily determined by the proficiency standards, not by the content standards. States (or common core) may have the most rigorous academic content standards ever, but when the state simply adjusts its proficiency bar (i.e., passing score on the test) up and down to elicit the desired the pass rate, then the content standards lose their meaning. It is only when the proficiency standards are fixed, and when those fixed standards are connected to reliable and objective performance criteria, that passing rates will actually say something about how well schools are doing.
So, to get back to my original question: How will schools fare under common core? The answer is, nobody can know. Because content standards have almost nothing to do with school accountability.
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