What Counts as Proficient on the PARCC Exam? Arkansas Moves Up the Limbo Stick

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 12, 2015 2 min read
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Arkansas has decided that students can be deemed on track college- and career-ready in math or English/language arts if they score at Level 3 on PARCC’s five-level test. That’s despite PARCC’s own decision that a student isn’t on course for college- and caree-readiness until they’ve scored at Level 4 or higher.

Arkansas’ decision, announced last week, is similar to the one Ohio made last month. As you might recall, Ohio set a cut score on the PARCC exam for its own accountability purposes that is different (and lower) than PARCC’s own definition of college- and career-readiness, or being on track for it.

On Oct. 8, the Arkansas education department released statewide scores for the PARCC exam for high school students for the 2014-15 academic year. The PARCC exam, which measures the Common Core State Standards, has five performance levels. The PARCC consortium considers students scoring at levels 4 and 5, the top two levels, to be demonstrating college- and career-readiness.

But the consortium can’t order states to report those scores in the same way for their own purposes. And Arkansas has decided to tell the public that state students scoring at level 3 are also on track for college- and career-readiness.

The data released by Arkansas shows how proficiency rates would have been very different if it had used the same cut scores that PARCC, as a consortium, decided on.

Although the Arkansas department also reported the percentage of students scoring at level 4 and above, the share of students PARCC would consider meeting or exceeding expectations for the test, the department stated that, “For Arkansas schools, students scoring at levels 3 and above are considered on track for college and career readiness.”

As far as PARCC is concerned, students at level 3 are considered to have “approached expectations.”

In case you’re interested in a couple of comparisons between 2014-15 and 2013-14 scores in Arkansas: 74 percent of the state’s students were considered proficient or better on the end-of-course Algebra I exam in 2013-14, and 75 percent of students achieved at least proficiency on the Geometry exam in 2013-14. (The state doesn’t plan to release PARCC scores to the state board for grades 3-8 until next month.)

In the department’s press release, state K-12 chief Johnny Key said, “It is my hope that the results of these assessments will prompt such conversations throughout the state.”

However it all shakes out, it appears this is a time-limited debate, since neither Arkansas nor Ohio will give the PARCC exam in 2015-16; Key successfully pushed to have a common-core-aligned test from the ACT replace PARCC. Ohio, meanwhile, will switch to a test developed by the American Institutes for Research.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.