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Arizona Mulls Cut Scores: Two Thirds of Students Would Miss the Mark

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz

'Tis the season of test results, and many won't be pretty. We've heard the chant for many months now: New common-core-aligned tests will present more challenging material for students, and the cut scores will be set higher, so proficiency rates will drop. Some preliminary results out of Arizona add some bracing reality to that warning.

Arizona's case is interesting, too, because it's not one of the states using federally funded common-core tests. It adopted the Common Core State Standards, but instead of PARCC or Smarter Balanced to test mastery of the standards, Arizona hired the American Institutes for Research to design tests in math and English/language arts. Yesterday, it posted a preview of what proficiency rates would look like on that test, the AzMERIT, if the state board adopted cut scores recommended by panels of teachers.

According to local media reports, almost two-thirds of Arizona students will fall below the proficiency mark if those cut scores are adopted. Here's what the performance breakdown looks like in English/language arts:

AZ1.JPGAnd here's what it looks like in math:

AZ2.JPGThe state is presumably using the results of the AzMERIT's maiden run, this past spring, and calculating performance distributions based on the proposed cut scores it is considering.

Districts and schools have a lot riding on those proficiency rates, since their accountability ratings depend in part on them. Students have some serious skin in the game too, however; in Arizona, 3rd graders can be made to repeat 3rd grade if their reading scores aren't good enough.

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