Last week the cut scores for Ohio’s 2014-15 PARCC assessments were announced. While many articles have focused on the different PARCC scoring levels selected in Ohio as compared to other states like Illinois and New York, all have ignored the most fundamental question of all: “What academic expectations are these cut scores based upon?” Parents and teachers automatically presume that there must be some academic correlation between the cut scores released in Ohio and surrounding states. They assume that there is value in the cut score selected. No one has asked the question: “How has the cut score been determined?”

It is my opinion, as an elected member of Ohio’s State Board of Education, that state policy makers have not been provided with sufficient information to set a meaningful cut score. We were asked to approve PARCC cut scores and proficiency levels without being provided a rubric explaining how the levels had been determined. When asked how PARCC arrived at their academic performance levels, the State Board of Education was told that PARCC has not yet released that information. While PARCC asserts that teachers have been asked to help select grade-level questions and that the assessments were aligned to the Common Core State Standards, how can appropriate, unbiased, performance cut scores be determined without a clear rubric explaining the academic criteria needed for each level?

 The issue of a meaningful cut score on criterion-referenced assessments has been ongoing since the adoption of Ohio’s first state mandated, criterion-referenced assessments: the Ohio Proficiency Tests. Most recently the fifth grade math OAA (Ohio Achievement Assessment) cut score for proficiency was only 35 percent! PARCC cut scores reach an all-time low, requiring only 18 percent of the points available (total number unspecified) to be considered proficient in seventh grade math! Parents and teachers expect that a level of “proficient” means a child is preforming on average for their grade level.

Isn’t it deceptive to suggest that 18 percent or 25 percent or 36 percent could be considered proficient, without also providing a rubric of the academic expectations at that level? Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ted Sanders admonished the State Board of Education on this very issue in December 1994: “(Percentage scores) mean absolutely nothing. And yet they appear to mean everything. … A 50 percent or a 70 percent are meaningless unless you know something about the difficulty of the items being measured.”

We have been told that the decreased percentage of students reaching proficiency despite drastically lower cut scores is because the PARCC assessments are more “rigorous.” This statement is without merit until there is a rubric detailing the academic criteria needed to attain each cut score and performance level. Without that information, we are left to conclude that the cut scores are politically driven rather than an accurate statement of Ohio student’s academic progress. After all, the federally funded test creators promised before an assessment was ever given that two-thirds of our students would not perform as well as we thought and that we would see a dramatic decrease in the proficiency levels of our students.

We might be just as accurate in assuming that the assessment questions, point distribution, cut scores and performance levels were arbitrarily set to fulfill PARCC’s marketing campaign promises, rather than to portray student academic performance in an unbiased, fair way.

SarahFowleSarah Fowler, of Rock Creek, is a member of the Ohio State Board of Education. She invites thoughts and comments to