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Biology Cut Scores

September 6, 2013

It’s important to know how the sausage is made, so I’m reposting this from the Effort SOS page on Facebook:

Now that test scores have been released to districts, there has been a lot of discussion about the impacts of these scores. I’ve been asked for my opinion about these scores by several teachers, so I thought I would share my (rambling, sometimes incoherent) thoughts with you, the advocates for education in this state. (Also, be aware that I am approaching this from the perspective of my background as a high school biology teacher, although I suspect that many of these points apply to other disciplines and grades.)

First, has raising the cut scores for passing a test ever improved education? I don’t know of any studies that suggest this is true. If there was any evidence showing that raising cut scores alone, without providing additional supports to teachers, improves student achievement, then I would be more willing to accept the SDE’s justifications. Also, if I had confidence that the OCCTs and EOIs test student understanding of science–which I don’t– then I would be more apt to agree with the SDE’s decision. But this will only be a hardship to students, families, schools, and teachers. What is the purpose of making it more difficult to pass a test when you don’t help teachers become more effective? Just telling teachers to “do better or your test scores will be awful and your job will be on the line” is neither motivating nor effective.

When I heard the cut scores, I went through my previous years’ scores to determine how they would have effected my students– the students that I know. I know whether these students had mastered the biology curriculum. And I determined that many of my students, whom I– as a professional educator– deemed to be proficient in biology– would not have passed. And my school would have had to spend scarce resources to remediate these kids. I get that we want to raise the bar– I want that, too. But I don’t want to raise the bar for proficient students, students who “get it”. I want support to meet the needs of the struggling students.

Finally, I want to share my experience as a member of the committee that “set the cut score” for this year’s biology EOI. I put that phrase in quotation marks, because we didn’t actually set the cut score. We began by working through the actual EOI (I’m proud to say that I didn’t miss a single question, although I did struggle a LOT with three questions. I have a masters degree in science education; I’ve taken 40 hours of graduate-level biology courses. I’ve taken– and passed– every pre-med course offered at OU. I have earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and I will earn a second masters in December before I begin a PhD program in spring. I have 248 hours of college credit under my belt. I taught biology for 8 years, and I served on several SDE assessment committees. AND I STRUGGLED WITH 3 QUESTIONS ON THE BIOLOGY EOI. Do you know what finally enabled me to answer those questions? I had to switch from the mindset of a person who is proficient in biology content, and instead think like a standardized test writers. What hope was there for our kids to answer those questions correctly?)

Like I said, if I believed in the ability of these tests to accurately gauge student understanding of biology, then I would not be writing this angry diatribe. But I’ve found that my own professional assessment of student understanding is far more reliable than the EOI.

I’ll skip all of the boring parts, but I will tell you that after we set our initial cut score recommendation, Meredith McBee from the SDE addressed us, and showed us data regarding how our cut score recommendations compare to ACT and NAEP data. Our cut scores did not align at all to the ACT or NAEP, but it was not sufficiently explained to us how the EOI comparable score was determined. We were also told that the legislature expected the biology test to be more rigorous than in the past. We were encouraged to reconsider our cut score based on ACT, NAEP, and the legislature’s intent. We did not deviate much from our original recommendation.

Now, here’s the part that should really concern teachers: When Meredith McBee presented cut score recommendations to the State Board of Education, she proposed a completely different cut score than the one that we came up with, and SHE TOLD THE STATE BOARD THAT THE CUT SCORE WAS DETERMINED BY A COMMITTEE OF TEACHERS. Now, I realize that the SDE has the ability to override the teacher committee’s recommendation. But it makes me steaming mad that they overrode our recommendation, and passed their own off as the recommendation of the teachers.

If I were still a biology teacher, I would be passing this information on to every parent of every student who did not pass the biology EOI. Our students should not be political pawns.

Makes you want to shop on the organic aisle, no?

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  1. Brooke Spencer
    September 6, 2013 at 7:30 am

    It is so maddening that SDE doesn’t listen to teachers or school administrators. Instead, they just push their plan through regardless of whether there is data to support the plan.


  2. Dan
    September 6, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    I have contacted my local district, the SDE and my state lawmakers about opting-out of state mandated tests, specifically the 3rd grade tests. So far, each one has said it is not an option for parents-my child is REQUIRED to take the tests. I’m not sure if anyone has insight on how to opt-out in Oklahoma, or if this even the forum to get answers, but I feel compelled to fight this battle, especially after reading this post. I still am pursuing leads but wonder if anyone has ideas?


    • Rachel
      September 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      Districts can’t tell you how to opt out without being investigated by the SDE (check history on Jenks.) I am currently looking into this myself. Districts are penalized for every student that isn’t tested… they are counted as a failing grade. If a certain % isn’t tested, they are penalized on their A-F score. That said, I don’t think anyone can make a child take a test.


  3. Eileen Grzybowski
    September 6, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Imagine if the refs in the NCAA moved the goal posts and changed who won the game two weeks to two months after the game ended…


  4. September 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

    As a biology teacher, I’m frustrated by the delay in receiving scores from last spring. We’ll soon be in the fall “testing window,” without a clue who needs remediation and retesting.


    • Gale
      October 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

      I am a Biology teacher too and as of today we STILL have not received our EOI scores from testing done last May. No way to know who needs remediation or how we did!


  5. September 7, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I totally agree with this author. My son earned a B in algebra 1 but missed passing the EOI by 3 questions. In order to graduate he must pass the algebra 1 EOI. He is currently a sophomore in geometry. You have to pass algebra 1 to take geometry. Your EOI score doesn’t mean anything ( which I agree with!) but you have to pass the EOI to graduate. So my son could flunk out of high school because he cannot pass an exam that really means nothing about a class where he earned a B. Can’t our educational “leaders” see the problem? It is making me crazy.


    • Brooke Spencer
      September 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      That is so ridiculous! You may want to check out Donna Anderson’s Facebook page. She is a candidate running for state superintendent against Barresi (and she is actually a public school superintendent…not a dentist). The only test that matters to colleges and HS kids is the ACT or SAT. She has made many posts regarding the complete waste that these EOIs are. Keep fighting the good fight! We must make a better choice in 2014 for State Superintendent!


      • September 7, 2013 at 11:47 pm

        Thanks! I will.


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