Monday, February 9, 2015

Guest Post: Dr. John Thompson on ACT Cut Scores and Other Issues

GUEST POST BY DR. JOHN THOMPSON: ACT: Cut Scores and Other Issues

A recurring suggestion by good people is the proposal that the ACT replace Oklahoma’s EOIs. While I don’t think that’s a good idea, I’d like to limit this email to a couple of ways of keeping such a policy from dramatically increasing the dropout rate.

The problem is setting an ACT cut score that is high enough to be politically viable, but low enough to prevent an explosion in the dropout rate. 

I’m basing this on data provided by the ACT to Sen. Ford’s interim committee in October 2009, and it is my understanding that the ACT routinely reissues up-to-date charts with this data. Back then, 30% of eligible Oklahoma students were excluded because they didn’t take the ACT, and a disproportionate number of them would be unable to pass such a test. 

The ACT material showed that 16% of Oklahomans failed to get a 14 on an ACT. If the cut score was set at 15 then 22% would fail. If it took a 16 to pass an exit exam, then 28% would fail. Add those numbers to those in the 30% who don’t take ACT (which includes disproportionately high numbers of poor, urban kids of color) and who wouldn’t pass it, and you can see the potential disaster. 

Of course, with an administration (like that of Joy Hofmeister) that has the trust of educators, some of these problems might be addressed, quietly, and a less dangerous set of rules might be possible. But, such solutions might not be possible. (And, I've seen to pattern where policy people and educators juice each other up, pushing standards higher and higher until the targets are clearly impossible.)

That leads me back to the suggestion I made previously; I just believe that the ACT possibility makes this proposal deserve a higher priority.  The law currently allows for portfolios as an alternative option, even though that path is largely spurned and stigmatized. The better path would be to make the portfolio/project option a normative and equally respected course for graduation. 

Please think of what we would want for children who fail their EOIs if they were our own children. In poor schools, those children are subjected to repeated remediation and test prep. They basically lose the chance to have a holistic high school experience, and they lose their senior year to a focus on retaking EOIs. If they were our children, would we want a choice between an unflinching focus on passing the EOIs to a portfolio that builds on their strengths? 

I understand that money is short. Urban districts could divert the resources that have been devoted to “EOI Boot Camps,” and other remediation to project-based efforts to meet graduation requirements. That would require leadership from the State, and I believe most districts would trust the Hofmeister administration on this. But, I would also offer encouragement in terms of funding for the portfolio route.  

This week, alone, I spoke with both a Tea Party education leader and a “No Excuses” charter school leader, and we found ourselves in agreement that high-quality portfolios should become a common and respected path to graduation and parents should be free to choose that path without their children being stigmatized. I believe this could be a very popular, common sense policy that would enjoy the support of all stakeholders.