Tighter Test Scoring in Michigan Shows Mixed Results

The middle of the school year has many states and districts contemplating half-year assessments. Michigan Live says that the Michigan Education Assessment Program test scores for grades 3 through 8 were released this week. Tim Martin reports that while some test averages improved a little, the new scoring system resulted in fewer students marked as passing, especially on factual tests in science in social studies.

Michigan's previous "cut score" system was considered too easy and misleading by some, allowing students to be deemed "proficient" with less than 40 percent of questions answered correctly on some tests. The new standards generally require students to answer about 65 percent of the questions correctly to meet the mark.

The good news for the state came in reading scores. Even with tighter scoring standards, the percentage of students who passed the reading test was up in all grades. In the lowest grade tested, 66.5% of 3rd graders did well enough on the test, compared to 62.4% last year. At the top of the scale, 8th graders passed the reading portion at a rate of 65.7%, up 5 percentage points from last year's 60.5%. Grades in between showed smaller gains, but all of the passing rates went up at least a little.

At the same time, although the rates all went up, teachers would have hoped for higher numbers. 70.4% of 5th graders were deemed proficient, but that was the high-water mark for all tests and ages.Where all readings tests were passed by at least 62% of students, no tests of writing, math, science or social studies came close to those levels.

Science was the most discouraging news for state officials; the science test is given in 5th and 8th grades. Only 15.9% of 8th graders and 13.1% of 5th graders passed in science. Last year's results were within a few percentage points of this year's, but even so, both grades dropped a little. 6th and 9th grade social studies clocked in around 28% passing rate. 4th and 7th graders took writing tests, passing them at rates of 46.7% and 51.7%, both up a little from last year. Math tests were passed at discouraging rates of 30 and 40% by all grades, but school officials noted that at least all grades improved over last year.

The state's superintendent of schools put an optimistic face on the results. What matters, he said, is the mostly upward movement.

"These gains demonstrate Michigan's teachers and students are rising to the challenge of the rigorous standards established last year," Flanagan said in a statement. "I am encouraged by the progress we are making in Michigan and look forward to the continued efforts to help all students achieve at a higher level in all subjects."

The Education Trust-Midwest, an independent education watchdog and policy advocate, pointed out that optimism should be tempered with concern.

"The Education Trust-Midwest commends steady improvements by Michigan K-12 students in some key subjects on the 2012 state academic assessments," the group said in a statement. "But we are troubled by students' continued struggles with science and math compared with other states, and by persistently low achievement gaps that negatively impact poor students and students of color."

02 12, 2013
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