By Sally Absher

News outlets across the state have been mute about this year’s TCAPS results, but the blogosphere and social media have been on fire.

First, some definitions: a Quick Score is a temporary score delivered after the tests have been administered, to give students and teachers a score that can be used for final grades. A Cut Score is a cut-off point – the points on a line or bell curve of test results dividing results into “advanced,” “proficient,” etc.

Equating test scores takes one test score and makes it comparable to another score. Additional factors are taken into consideration, such as the difficulty of each test, the number of questions, the kinds of questions, and other factors, to determine what a score on one of these tests would “equate” to on another test. Scores can be equated before students are tested (pre-equating) or after the test is given (post-equating).

Last year, the TCAP post-equating process caused delays resulting in the quick scores not being received by the district in time to be included in students’ final grades.

Apparently the TN DOE got that pesky post-equating problem resolved, because the quick scores were received on time this year. And at first glance, the scores are fantastic! Which is worrisome.

Momma Bear’s blog reported, “Teachers are skeptical that students improved so dramatically. People are wondering if the scores were inflated to make parents happy, and worry the artificially inflated scores will penalize them in their evaluations in future years using the secret mathematical TVAAS formula that tells if a teacher is good or bad using test scores.”

This initial euphoria was quickly extinguished when the index cut score information came out last week.  You see, our kids did so awesome that the state had to raise the bar. In 2014, students who scored 85 or above were determined to be “proficient,” but this year, the necessary quick score for “proficient” ranged from 89 to 91.

The TN DOE uses post-equated scores, which means that after the tests are given, they can set the cut scores wherever they want. In other words, even though the quick scores show that most students mastered the material, the TN DOE can go back and make adjustments to get the proficiency results they want.

Additionally, the state changed its methodology for calculating quick scores for students in grades 3-8. It is now using the cubed-root method the state has been using for high school EOCs. This change in methodology resulted in apparent grade inflation, leading parents and educators to believe students had performed better than in previous years, and resulted in a 4 to 6-point increase in cut scores from 2014.

Blogger Thomas Weber (Dad Gone Wild) wrote, “Clearly, this isn’t like Ms. Johnson’s 5th grade class where there were 50 questions and each one you got right earned you two points, and if you got between 80 and 90 points you got a “B,” 90 to 100 an “A,” and so on. Under the state scenario, a student receives a score, for example, 87, and whatever number the cut score is set at determines whether the student is proficient or advanced. If the cut score is set at 88, the child would be considered basic. If the cut score is 86, they are proficient.”

But standardized tests are inherently flawed. Jersey Jazzman, an education researcher and blogger, explains that both the standards and the tests are created to yield “normal” or bell curve distributions.

When the bell curve is applied to the test results, some students will fall to the exceptional end of the scale and some students will fall to the other side, but the majority will fall in the middle. Weber explains, “While we are demanding that students do exceptional work, we are utilizing a measurement system that guarantees the majority of them will do average work. Because if too many of them do exceptional work, we’ll just make the test harder so that the majority fall back in the middle.”

He continues, “In Tennessee, we have the Achievement School District, which has the mission of taking the bottom 5% of schools up to the top 25% while ignoring the fact that there will always be a bottom 5%. The use of a bell curve goes one step further and insures there will always be below average schools and teachers. Or, as the reform movement likes to label them, failing schools and failing teachers. How many parents and community members are aware of this, and how many take the results at face value?”

And, Weber points out that students are not alone in being held to a higher standard in a system that only allows for a few “above average” students. He says, “Countless articles have been written about the need to have a great teacher in front of every class, yet each of those teachers will only be allowed to produce average outcomes. Because again, if all those teachers produced great outcomes, we’d have to redo the test to make sure those outcomes were average.”

Are you starting to understand why students and parents across the country are refusing to be part of this ruse, by refusing the test? When will you join them?