Board Sets Cut Scores

I spent much of Tuesday at the State Board of Education meeting. Others will cover it as a news story in greater detail than I will here–for example, here’s some early coverage from the Dayton Daily News. Although the Board did plenty of business, few will disagree that the main event was the setting of cut scores for two math tests on which the scores came back unexpectedly low.

This is a complex topic, and these few hundred words aren’t enough to cover it in all the detail it deserves. What I want to do here is to offer some  reflections on the topic and the process.

  • We got into this mess because politicians decided to focus on school “accountability.” The “accountability movement” has been embraced by politicians of both parties, and the thing about the word that rankles most educators, including me, is the implication that before lawmakers decided to focus on it, schools were unaccountable. In fact, they were quite accountable–to publicly-elected local boards of education. Somewhere along the line, the idea grew that schools would improve if the pressures on them were increased. Ohio’s accountability system that began modestly in the late 80s was the first symptom of this trend, and the pressures to improve test results have ratcheted up ever since.
  • Remember the classroom tests you took in school? Chances are that you knew that certain percentages would earn an A, a B, and so forth. These tests aren’t like that: they are “norm-referenced,” which means, in the words of Alfie Kohn in The Schools Our Children Deserve, that they “aren’t intended to to find out how much students know. These tests were created only to find out how well your child does compared to every other child taking the test.” On these tests, there is no standard of performance except the “norms” assigned by the Board of Education, which assigns “cut scores” that determine which of five labels to apply to a student’s score.
  • This means that assigning a cut score is a political act. When the State Board of Education performs its statutory duty to assign assign cut scores, it is determining how many children will be winners and losers.
  • This underscores the importance of getting the right people on the State Board of Education. But it was the General Assembly and Governor who created this system in the first place. (Even while ignoring a school funding system that the Ohio Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional four times.) Since then they’ve been reinforced at the national level by administrations of both parties.

It’s a flawed system, and the Board didn’t create it. If elected  I plan to be in the thick of the argument to try to mitigate the effects of bad law.

This post originally appeared on the website of my 2016 campaign for State Board of Education,

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.