This post is the last in our three-part series on cut scores. Read Part 1 (A-F system) and Part 2 (Setting Cut Scores) before this if you need more background knowledge to understand this post.

Proposals for Changing the Cut Scores

There have been three proposals for how to change cut scores: MDE’s original recommendation, the Commission on School Accreditation’s recommendation, and MDE’s final proposal, which was adopted by the State Board of Education on August 17, 2017. This post will briefly discuss all three. Because final data is not yet available for 2016-2017, MDE is using percentiles to set cut scores, just like last year, so all the recommendations will be presented as percentiles. This post also focuses on district percentiles to make the explanation easier.

First, let’s review the 2015-2016 cut scores, adopted in October 2016. This post will refer to these cut scores as the “2016 status quo.” The State Board adopted the 2016 status quo cut scores after first adopting percentiles for how many schools and districts would earn each grade in the 2015-2016 school year. The resulting numerical cut scores were intended to remain the same for several years.

Grade Numerical Cut Scores Percentiles
A 738 or above 90% or above
B 626 or above but below 738 63% or above but below 90%
C 552 or above but below 626 38% or above but below 63%
D 470 or above but below 552 14% or above but below 38%
F Below 470 Below 14%

 

MDE’s Original Recommendation

After MDE decided it needed to change the cut scores, they constructed a recommendation that was very similar to the 2016 status quo’s percentiles.

Grade 2016 Status Quo 2017 Original MDE Recommendation
A 90% or above 90.3% or above
B 63% or above but below 90% 63.7% or above but below 90.3%
C 38% or above but below 63% 38.5% or above but below 63.7%
D 14% or above but below 38% 14.7% or above but below 38.5%
F Below 14% Below 14.7%

 

The first thing to notice about MDE’s 2017 original recommendation is that each of the percentiles is nearly identical to the 2016 status quo percentiles, although the 2017 percentiles are slightly higher than the 2016 status quo. However, these differences are so small that the greatest of them only equals a 2-district difference as seen below.

Grade 2016 Number of Districts 2017 Number of Districts
A 14 14
B 39 38
C 36 36
D 35 34
F 19 21

 

While there are 2 more “F” districts using the 2017 percentiles, the numbers are very, very close. Seems fair to mostly preserve the status quo when moving to new cut scores, right? That may be what MDE was thinking.

Unfortunately, this recommendation did not actually preserve the status quo because some districts, especially those rated “F,” have improved relative to the numerical cut scores, which is how they thought they would be judged, even if their percentile has not changed that much.

Using the 2016 status quo numerical cut scores instead of the percentiles, the 2017 chart looks like this:

Grade Number of Districts Using Status Quo Number of Districts Using 2017 MDE Recommendation
A 7 14
B 42 38
C 40 36
D 42 34
F 12 21

 

There are 9 fewer “F” districts if MDE keeps the status quo rather than moving to their recommendation! The flip side, though, is that there are 7 fewer “A” districts and at least 1 fewer “B” district if MDE keeps the status quo. Their recommendation was to allow a greater number of “F” districts but exempt “F” districts who would have become “D” districts from sanctions.

The Commission on School Accreditation’s Recommendation

The Commission on School Accreditation did not like MDE’s original recommendation. They felt the unfairness of changing the goalposts after the game had already been played, even if those “F” districts that had improved were not given sanctions. After intense debate, they decided to agree to move the cut scores, but they wanted MDE to use the exact same percentiles as the 2016 status quo, not the new, slightly higher percentiles. The Commission’s recommendation appeared to be a compromise, but the overall impact would have been very similar to MDE’s original recommendation since MDE’s recommendation was so close to the status quo percentiles anyway.

Grade Commission’s Recommendation Estimated Number of Districts 2017 Original MDE Recommendation Number of Districts
A 90% or above 14 90.3% or above 14
B 63% or above but below 90% 39 63.7% or above but below 90.3% 38
C 38% or above but below 63% 36 38.5% or above but below 63.7% 36
D 14% or above but below 38% 35 14.7% or above but below 38.5% 34
F Below 14% 19 Below 14.7% 21

 

The Commission’s recommendation would have given the benefit of the doubt to “A” and “B” districts while only really helping 2 “F” districts. The remaining 7 “F” districts that would have been a “D” would have been exempt from sanctions but would have had to live with the “F” label for another year.

In other words, keeping the 2016 status quo numerical cut scores would benefit “D” and “F” districts more while either MDE’s original recommendation or the Commission’s recommendation would help “A” and “B” districts more. This is why the public outcry continued after the Commission’s recommendation.

Adopted Cut Scores

The State Board gets the final say on what percentiles/cut scores MDE must use to assign grades. They could choose to take the Commission’s recommendation or any separate recommendation made by MDE. MDE decided to present a new, true compromise at the Board meeting after listening to stakeholders who expressed concerns about of the proposals.

Under MDE’s new proposal, schools and districts would receive two grades—one using the 2016 status quo numerical cut scores and one using cut scores based on MDE’s 2017 percentiles. The school or district could adopt the higher of the two grades as their “official” grade, although both would be reported. Grades for 2017-2018 would be solely based on the new 2017 numerical cut scores.

This is the only proposal that allows both “A” and “B” districts and “D” and “F” districts to win. This is what the cut scores now look like:

Grade 2016 Status Quo Cut Scores Number of Districts 2017 Original MDE Recommendation Number of Districts
A 738 or above 7 90.3% or above 14
B 626 or above but below 738 42 63.7% or above but below 90.3% 38
C 552 or above but below 626 40 38.5% or above but below 63.7% 36
D 470 or above but below 552 42 14.7% or above but below 38.5% 34
F Below 470 12 Below 14.7% 21

 

Schools and districts currently rated “D” or “F” will likely use the 2016 cut scores while most districts currently rated “A” or “B” will use the new 2017 cut scores. Nearly all districts should see their grades stay the same or improve this year as a result. Next year, though, everyone will be striving for the same standard—the 2017 cut scores.

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