PARCC Sets High School Cut Scores

By Catherine Gewertz — August 14, 2015 2 min read
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So what’s up with PARCC’s work to set cut scores for its test? The best update we can bring you right now is to say they’re making progress.

During a meeting here in Washington Friday, the PARCC board of governors voted to adopt the high school cut scores that panels of educators recommended when they met in Denver last month. K-12 and higher-education representatives from each PARCC state voted to approve the approximate number of points that students need to score at each of the five performance levels on PARCC’s tests in math and English/language arts and math in grades 9, 10 and 11, said PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

This is where it gets wonkier: PARCC officials wouldn’t say how many points students need to earn to reach each level, or the scale score they need. That’s because they’re still working on finalizing the precise number of points that would translate into a scale score between 650 and 850 at each grade level, in each subject.

Because one test form varies slightly from another, the super-wonks need to figure out a conversion for each form that translates points properly from the different forms onto a common scale (the 650 to 850 scale), said PARCC’s assessment chief, Jeff Nellhaus.

So all we know right now is that PARCC representatives adopted “threshold” scores for nine tests: grades 9, 10, and 11 English/language arts, algebra 1, 2, and 3, and integrated math 1, 2, and 3. They’ll adopt similar threshold scores for grades 3-8 math and English/language arts on Sept. 9.

But we’ll have to wait until late September to find out what proportions of students scored at each level of the test last spring. That’s because states are still finalizing their data, Nellhaus said.

The threshold scores for each high school performance level were recommended by panels of teachers who were nominated by their states and convened in Denver last month. They examined test questions, analyzed their difficulty and suggested cut points that would place students in the five performance levels, which describe how ready they are for college. The “mid range” recommendations of those teachers were the levels that were adopted by PARCC representatives today, Nellhaus said.

Educators gather in Denver again this month to recommend performance levels for grades 3-8, which will connote how “on track” students are to be college ready by high school.

Voting on the recommended performance levels today, Nellhaus said, PARCC representatives from K-12 and higher education examined preliminary data showing what proportions of student would score at each level if the cut scores were set as recommended by the teacher panels in Denver. They also considered how those performance results would compare to other exams such as the SAT, ACT and NAEP, Nellhaus said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.