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CC Algebra – Fewer Strong Scores – Part II – Untethering

July 7, 2015 am31 10:50 am

A: When you are in New York State.
Q: When is your score not your score?

(Previous post is here)

There’s something that anyone working with New York State Regents Examinations knows, that no one outside of education would assume. There are not 100 points on the tests. Common Core Algebra has 86 possible points. A complicated “conversion chart” changes this “raw score” (actual score) into the “scaled score” (reported score).

It used to be different. When we had Course I, Course II and Course III Regents, and at all times before, you earned points, and those points made your score. There were 100 points available. Earn 65 points? Your score was 65. Earn 85 points? Your score was 85. People understood this.

The first of a series of disruptive innovations in mathematics in New York State freed the test from the content (they called this “standards based testing” but we no longer knew what questions they would be asking), and freed the score from the points. Really.

Here’s old Course I exams. See, no conversion scale. But each question has a point value. As a kid worked this exam, they had an idea of how they were doing.

And starting in 2002, there were Math A exams. 85 points. And the last page in the answer key included a conversion scale. Teachers were not happy. Some of the exam was impossibly wordy, and hard on weaker readers, but the scale made it up by making 51 points (60% of the points) equivalent to a score of 65. The State was using scaling to fuzz over the fact that they could no longer write an appropriate test. And a kid taking the exam?  They had no idea how they were doing, even if they attempted to keep track of points.

Oh, that 60% is passing?  That went out the window quickly. In June 2003 the State gave a Math A exam that tons of suburban kids failed (it really was a poorly constructed test), and “fixed” the problem by jiggering the exam. They did not remove the inappropriate wordiness, the false contexts, or the over-penalization for rounding. They “fixed” the problem by dropping the passing score. By August 2004, 36 out of 84 (they changed the length) was now passing. 43%. They got kids to pass, but in the process convinced more teachers and administrators that they were incompetent.

Each new test had a slightly different chart. But the big changes were:

We now have a full generation that works with exams out of 82 or 87 or 84 points. Do they accept that using an odd-ball conversion chart makes sense? Most of us, no. Does the public get it? No. Is it fair to kids that they don’t know how they are being graded? No.

I’ll provide more details on how the conversion charts are created in the next post in this series, the third.

But that system of conversions is key to answering the question: “Why did the top scores decline during the shift from Integrated Algebra to Common Core Algebra?”

That’ll be in the fourth and final post.

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