SBE sidesteps critics, rolls back math score measures

SBE sidesteps critics, rolls back math score measures

(Calif.) The state board of education moved Wednesday to adjust downward the scoring standards for math testing last spring that fell unexpectedly below the two prior years.

Although the action was criticized by some who worry poor school performance is being artificially inflated, the board was careful to cite authoritative analysis that supports the need to sometimes modify a grading matrix when working with such a small pool of data.

“What we have here is a technical problem,” said Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education. “It’s caused not by the board’s interest in rejiggering (test scores) but by the volatility that is to be expected.”

Kirst said that if the board didn’t make the adjustment it could delay the state’s efforts to intervene with districts that are in the failing categories of performance. “I think we’d be criticized on the back end, then, for not getting our technical assistance off the ground,” he said.

Key to a three-year effort to remake the school accountability system is a color-coded matrix, called the California Dashboard, intended to give parents and other stakeholders a quick grasp of where a specific school or districts stands with respect to performance.

Analysis by the California Department of Education found that without making a change to the cut scores—and thus, the color designations—the number of local educational agencies that will receive a “red” designation, the lowest of five rankings with the dashboard, would double in 2017.

Although most school groups, including the Association of California School Administrators, are supportive of the move—a number of organizations representing parents and low-income children opposed the action.

During a hearing that took most of day, the board heard from a large number of public speakers that the rollback was essentially changing the rules after learning of disappointing outcomes.

But board member Sue Burr pointed out that under the recommendation proposed by the CDE, the total number of districts that would fall into the category that will trigger state intervention increases.

“We did not game the system,” she said. “I will say that for the tenth time based on public comment. If we were going to game the system, if we wanted to game the system, we wouldn’t have increased the number of districts that need support.”

While the vote to adopt the CDE recommendation was unanimous, there was some hesitation. Board member Feliza Ortiz-Licon, for instance, said that criticism of the board wasn’t just over the scoring adjustment itself—but rather the process behind it.

“There was a pretty wide range of stakeholders that expressed concern about the process,” she said. “If we know that this is something that will likely come back, we should start putting out the memos and putting out the information to the stakeholders—because we know what we will be encountering.”