Change in Test Causes Spike in School AYP Scores
Contact: Neil Mellen
South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG)
Officials have released details of this year’s public school rankings and parents are in for a surprise.
While Adequate Yearly Progress (or “AYP”) scores for elementary and middle schools across South Carolina have risen slightly, higher levels of student achievement are not the cause.
“Most of the improvement we see is the result of changes to the testing and scoring system,” explained Randy Page, president of an educational watchdog organization in Columbia. “When the schools switched from the PACT test to the new PASS test standards were lowered, giving the false impression that achievement gains were made.”
“Teachers, parents, students, and just about everyone was happy to see the PACT test replaced, but the school administrators and school boards lobbied hard to include a provision that weakens the way the new test would be graded and reported,” observed Page.
Last year, national testing experts at the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) criticized the new PASS test standards “as among the bottom quartile in a recent cross-state comparison of proficient standards within 27 states.”
The NWEA report further noted that just switching from PACT to PASS, would bring about a “dramatic” increase in the number of students meeting the standards “even with no actual improvement on student performance.”
Officials at Data Recognition Corp (DRC), a Minnesota based firm with political connections to Superintendent Jim Rex, seemed to agree. DRC created and helps to administer the PASS test, and was the primary contractor on the PACT test that PASS replaced. Last year a DRC official admitted to the press that under the recommended PASS scoring benchmarks, more students would fall into higher categories, which would lead to higher scores. In other words, scores would automatically rise even if student and school performance were stagnant.
Page and others have made the case that increasing parental choice would strengthen the state’s accountability laws and free up more resources for public schools.
“An educational tax credit program would provide parents with real options and save local school districts over $5,000 in locally raised revenues for each child whose parents exercise a choice about where their child attends school” noted Page, who pointed to similar programs already in effect in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida. “Educational tax credits would spur investment in education and give parents more of a reason to be engaged with their students education – that is something that standardized tests and AYP reports alone will never accomplish.”
Details of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for local schools and districts can be found online at: www.ed.sc.gov/topics/assessment/scores/ayp/