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Test review should eye how it's scored

July 19, 2002

Pennsylvania's State Board of Education plans to order a $100,000 study of its sometimes-controversial state assessment tests, but doesn't plan to address one of teacher groups' key criticisms. That should be remedied now, before any consultant is hired.

The board's Council on Basic Education said Wednesday that the study was being ordered because the board wants to see how well the tests measure the academic standards it adopted in 1999. Those standards - for reading, writing and math skills students are expected to acquire - will be reviewed by the board next year.

Using that review, the consultant study of the test and the latest student results, education officials say the board can decide how good a yardstick the tests are.

But at present there are no plans to study the test's most controversial feature, the scoring system that defines student performance as below-basic, basic, proficient and advanced. If too many students at a given school don't obtain a proficient rating, the state can sanction the school.

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But the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, says present scoring methods put too many students into the below-basic category.

Karl Girton, board chairman, said those complaints have been reviewed by in-house experts and the board is satisfied the methods are fair.

But given the pressure teachers face to get students to meet state standards, why not let the consultants look at the issue?

The worst possible outcome would be that the state would have to adjust its scoring system to provide a more accurate picture of student achievement. And shouldn't a board charged with promoting education want to uphold truth as the absolute standard?

Because the state board is expected to get all but $35,000 of the study's cost from foundations, we suggest the teachers' group lobby those sources of cash to make any award contingent on a look at how the tests are scored.

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