Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pearson Set Cut Scores for NYS

Over at lohud, actual journalists like Gary Stern have been working long hours trying to pry loose some facts from the state of New York, and it's worth the while of folks from all states to see what they've dug up because it's a bright red warning flag about how the CCSS-linked testing program actually works.

Gannett Publishing had to pry open the state with a large, legal-sized crowbar just to get the names of the 95 individuals who set the cut scores for New York's test. Of those 95, only 18 would speak, which was in itself a bit of a brave things since they all signed a confidentiality agreement. Because, remember children, when you hear reformsters calling for transparency, they only mean for teachers and test results. Tests themselves and everything going into creating the scores must remain locked under super double-secret pinky swear security.

While nothing that came out of the reporting was a huge surprise, that doesn't mean it wasn't appalling. For instance

Pearson set the cut scores for the test

Turns out that saying the committee set the cut scores for the exam is a bit of a Not True Thing. Here's Tina Good, a panelist from Suffolk Community College.

"We worked within the paradigm Pearson gave us," she said. "It's not like we could go, 'This is what we think third-graders should know,' or, 'This will completely stress out our third-graders.' Many of us had concerns about the pedagogy behind all of this, but we did reach a consensus about the cut scores."

You might think that this process would involve teachers saying, "Okay-- a three is supposed to be the bare minimum for college-ready. So what would a three look like? What would we, in our trained professional opinion, consider the minimum that we would expect to see in order to give a student that score?" But apparently you would be mistaken.

In brief, panelists were assigned to small groups that looked at several grades' exams in math or English language arts. They were given detailed descriptions of what students should know in each grade — prepared by state officials and experts from Pearson Inc., the mega-corporation signed to create New York's tests.

From a separate article in the series:

Panelists' comments were enlightening. Much of the data, including information on what kind of results could be equated with "college success," were supplied by Pearson, the testing conglomerate that has contracted with the state to produce the tests, and much of the material teachers rely on as the state transitions to Common Core.

Panelists weren't deciding a thing. They were doing clerical work.

In other news

Many of us tend to assume that the CCSS boosters who decry current testing are simply trying to save their baby from its dangerously vulnerable conjoined twin. Meet Karen DeMoss, education professor from Wagner College.

"Our process was perfectly fine, and the Common Core standards may be the best thing the country has ever had in education," DeMoss said. "The problem is the underlying assumption that these tests are helping us. They're not. Pearson's tests were unbelievably bad, the worst I've seen, and the reality of using tests designed to rank students is something we haven't gotten our heads around."

 It's exceptionally sad that an education professor thinks CCSS are great, but nice that she recognizes that there's an assumption that the tests help when they don't.

And then there's the process itself

"It's like you're jumping over a hurdle that's 2 feet high, but after you jump they say it was 3 feet and you missed," said Cary Grimm, another panelist who is math chairman for the Longwood school district on Long Island.

In fact, among the CCSS supporters who spoke (and really-- did you think NYS would fill this committee with people who didn't love the Core), there was a recognition that the implementation is a hash and the tests are a bogus joke. Yes, they haven't figured out that what we've got is exactly what the Core were designed to give us, but at least they recognize some of the suckage, and not simply from a practical political calculus angle (and remember-- everyone must take calculus now). This is undoubtedly part of the reason that CCSS enjoys the kind of support in NYS usually reserved for politicians who cannot keep their private parts off the internet.

It's an illuminating batch of reportage, well worth your time to read. Because you may not live in New York, but wherever you are in America, you're still living in the United States of Pearson.


  1. Overall the process was highly scripted, and we were very limited in what we could actually accomplish. It was especially frustrating to work on Standard Setting, which ostensibly determined the cut scores. We were given a small handful of tests by the company, carefully selected to guide us to the cut points they wanted. Then we were told that our suggestions would be taken into account by our state Ed department. All so they could say "But teachers created this!"

  2. When we started the standard-setting process in Massachusetts ETS came in and did staff development with our LOCAL teachers, principals, and curriculum staff to learn how to set the standards . District administrators worked through the process and came up with a LOCAL standard in reading or math based on the tests they used such as Iowa , or California. I still have the ETS standard setting manual giving the procedures and the truth that the LOCAL schools developed standards baed on the objectives of the curriculum and the test items. How did this process get so badly diverted???? (Jean Sanders, Massachusetts)

  3. This info needs to go to the NJ Legislature and the extra special commission that Gov. Christie is going to set up to study CCSS and PARCC tests !

  4. Commish King has the final say over the Cut Scores and you can bet he helped make sure the process was "fixed" prior to the meeting of the committee.