2009 PASS Scores And All The Gold/ Silver Awards
by Alex Saitta
May 27, 2010
This was sent to the local press as a letter to the editor.
At the April school board meeting our schools were presented the state Gold and Silver awards. In 2010, 23 Gold and Silver awards were handed out and there was a discussion about the significant increase from 2009, when only 13 were awarded.
In middle and elementary school, Gold and Silver awards are based on PACT and now the PASS test.
The discussion centered around the question, was there improvement in academic performance or was the standardized test made easier when it was switched from PACT to PASS?
The point I made was when you look beyond the awards and at the raw test data for the PASS, there wasnít any improvement in our scores.
One way to get improvement in test results without actual improvement in academic performance is to lower the testís cut scores. For example, letís say a student needed 70% of the questions right to pass the test. To improve the results, the pass/ fail threshold or cut score could be lowered to 65%.
When the state changed from the PACT to the PASS this past year, the cut scores were lowered and that explains why there were so many Gold and Silver awards in 2010 vs. 2009, even though the test data didnít show an improvement.
To prove the point I went to the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee website and it clearly states the PASSís cut scores were lowered. I quote from the study:
"Proficiency cut scores under PACT were at or among the most difficult of all states examined, while the newly proposed PASS cut scores are much lower, falling roughly among the lowest one fourth of states examined."
"Use of these lower standards would result in dramatic increases in the percentages of students meeting standards in South Carolina schools, even with no actual improvement in student performance."
In sum, South Carolina switched from one of the toughest grading scales to one of the easiest.
I understand the desire to somewhat lower the grading scale when the state switched from the PACT to the PASS ó it was near the top. However, to drop it to one of the lowest was wrong. Also, to have it trigger all these extra awards and for our school district not to tell the public or the press was misleading.