With the end of the school year comes time for district and school staff to determine how well students have learned. School Boards do this also. If you want to measure student achievement at higher levels, one way is to look at how your state sets its achievement bar on the state tests your students take. By law, the state tests must measure what it is the state determined that students will learn. I know, I know – that is a novel concept. But let me share with you what we’ve learned and how that impacts student achievement in your school, district, and state.
I’ll use an example from Michigan here. Michigan gives its state test in the fall of each year. One of the things the state determines is what constitutes proficiency for each test – in other words, how many questions a student must answer correctly in order for a student to be considered proficient. In 7th grade, a student has to answer only 34% of the questions correct in order to be deemed proficient. Do you think that’s a problem? I certainly do. If we have students who we report as proficient when they are performing well on only about one-third of the test, how are we preparing them for high school? For college? For work?
Look at the graph on the left. The blue line on the graph shows the percentage of questions a student must answer correctly in order to be proficient in mathematics on the MEAP test for grades 3-8. The bar is set lower than most would like. (I have yet to talk with an educator in Michigan who thinks the bar is just right or too low.) This can be an issue in terms of school improvement because we can have 90% of our students proficient, but if the bar is so low, what does that really mean the students know? Are they really showing proficiency?
District staff, building-level staff, and school board members can step up to the plate here and raise the bar. How do you do that? In addition to keeping a check on the percentage of students who are proficient on the MEAP test by the state’s standards, you can raise the bar and add another measurement that reflects your own higher standards. The red line represents a bar in which a district says that to show success on the MEAP test, students must answer 75% or more of the questions correct.
So consider raising the bar and expecting more from the students for whom you are responsible.