- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - The State Board of Education decided Wednesday to set a score below the college-ready level as the Washington state graduation standard on the new Common Core tests.

The people creating the tests, which are also known as the Smarter Balanced exams, say a score of 3 or 4 means students are “college and career ready.”

The State Board of Education decided Wednesday afternoon to set a score in the middle of the 2 range - just above 2.5 - as the graduation level for the Common Core math and English tests in Washington.

The new English exam is replacing the state’s old writing and reading exams as a graduation requirement. Passing the new math test won’t be a graduation requirement for a few more years, but it will be an approved alternative for students who fail math end-of-course exams, which are required for graduation.

Board members had a long and complex debate before voting on the new graduation scores. Some of the discussion was around fairness. Other parts of the discussion were more technical, involving the difficulty of choosing the right scores and making sure everyone understood what the scores meant.

Staff members, with help from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, attempted to set the pass level at a place where about as many kids are expected to pass the exams as passed the state’s previous tests.

When the tests were given statewide for the first time this past spring, a large number of high school students skipped them. So state education officials had to use alternative methods for figuring out what score would mean students are proficient in the subject matter and deserve a diploma.

The data had other unknown problems, as well.

Ben Rarick, executive director of the state board, went as far as calling the data bizarre, and his comments were echoed by several board members.

“Our hope is that next year we will have better data so that we can relook at that (passing) cut score,” board member Isabel Munoz-Colon said. She said the long-term goal of the board is to help students be ready to reach a level 3 on both the English and math exams.

The board is required by the Legislature to set the passing scores for state achievement tests. During the meeting and at a news conference afterward, board members and staff repeatedly referred to the new graduation scores as transitional.

“The bottom line is the board was trying to be fair. We’re transitioning between two systems,” Rarick said. “How can we hold students harmless to the changes the adults are contemplating? Everybody rallied around that point.”

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