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On Common Core tests, state inflates pupil skills

by Emma Brown The Washington Post | October 13, 2015 at 5:45 a.m.

Arkansas has become the second state to redefine what it means to be proficient on new Common Core tests, inflating the performance of its students.

Like Ohio before it, Arkansas has decided that students are proficient if they score at level 3 or above on the exams known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. PARCC divides students into five levels, from 1 to 5.

According to PARCC, students are on track to graduate with the skills they need after high school only if they score at level 4 or above.

So Arkansas claims that 60 percent of its Algebra I students are proficient, while fewer than half that many -- just 28 percent -- would be considered on track had Arkansas stuck with PARCC's more stringent definition of "proficient."

Similarly, Arkansas says that 64 percent of its high school freshmen are proficient in reading. But had the state used PARCC's definition, that would have dropped to 36 percent.

Critics slammed state officials, saying they made a politically convenient decision that leaves parents and policymakers in the dark about the real performance of Arkansas students.

Kimberly Friedman, a spokesman for the Arkansas education department, said that officials are "preparing follow-up information to parents and the state" that clarifies that students who score a 3 have only "approached academic expectations," according to PARCC.

Friedman did not immediately respond to a question about whether that might be confusing to parents of students who score a 3 -- to be told on the one hand that their children are on track for college readiness, and on the other hand that they are merely approaching academic expectations.

Like Ohio and several other states, Arkansas has pulled out of PARCC and is shifting to a new test in 2016.

The growing number of states that are choosing to give their own exams, coupled with the different definitions of "proficient" on PARCC tests, is unraveling one of the central promises of the Common Core academic standards -- the idea that states would have the same math and reading standards and use the same tests, making it possible to directly compare student performance across state lines.

A Section on 10/13/2015

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