June 16, 2007

Flubbing the FCAT reality check

Only months after Governor Jeb Bush left office, the facade of accurate test scores has fallen away from Florida's high-stakes accountability system. After a drop in third-grade scores from 2006 to 2007, questions were raised about the rise in 2006 FCAT scores in third grade. With some pressure, the Florida Department of Education acknowledged in the spring that the norming for 2006 was incorrect.

Because third-grade test scores have so many consequences, tied to student promotion, the school grades in Florida's accountability system, and judgments of Adequate Yearly Progress for NCLB purposes, the inaccuracies are not just an embarrassment.

This problem was inevitable at some point; test scoring errors are a periodic news item in the U.S., if not in every state every year. But because we have chosen to base so many consequences on single tests, the consequences of the errors are magnified.

Scoring errors do not have the same type of consequence where the issue is a graduation exam. I am skeptical of graduation exit exam policies, but because states allow students to retake graduation exams multiple times, an error that places one test score too low requires a student to take the retest. The existence of graduation exam retesting takes some of the sting out of the inevitable errors in testing procedures. No such buffer is there for promotion policies that rely on a single test or on statistical school accountability policies.

The expansion of discussion from the technical review to the broader uses of the test is not surprising this year (would have been last year) and quite welcome.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on June 16, 2007 12:45 AM |