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State board OKs limited release of science scores for high school seniors

Colorado high school seniors who took the state’s science standardized test last fall will receive individual reports with information about how they did.

But those same students will likely never know how they did on a companion social studies test after the State Board of Education declined Thursday to approve cut scores for that assessment.

The board, after months of debate, did approve cut scores for the science test, but only for the purpose of providing students their individual results. Students will also be provided some information of how they did compared to students at the same school and in the same school district.

Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels to provide context for how much a student was able to demonstrate on an exam. The achievement levels in Colorado are distinguished command, strong command, moderate command, and limited command.Schools will also receive a copy of individual student reports. But it is unclear what aggregate information will be released to districts, the media and public.“I’m sure there will be further direction,” said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment at the Colorado Department of Education.

The board’s mixed action Thursday ends months of bureaucratic limbo.

Results for both tests were ready months ago. However, the board earlier this spring refused to set cut scores, as it is legally required to do, because of philosophical objections to the tests. Those philosophical concerns, including that students were tested on matters that weren’t taught, were what prevented board members from approving the cut scores for the social studies tests.

But a compromise emerged Wednesday and was codified Thursday in a resolution proposed by Republican board member Steve Durham.

“I am persuaded that those who took the test have a right to know the results of those tests,” Durham said. “I don’t believe these results should be for any other purpose.”

Durham led the charge against the cut scores in March.

The debate over setting cut scores, which in the past has been merely procedural, demonstrates how contentious the issue of standardized testing has become.

“Someone explain to me why we can’t set cut scores and release them?” asked board member Angelika Schroeder during Thursday’s discussion. “That is our responsibility.”

Board member Val Flores responded, “Because adults give horrible meaning to the results.”

The senior social studies and science tests have also been the center of the testing debate since thousands of students in mostly suburban and rural counties opted out of them. Many of those students refused to take the test because they said the results were irrelevant to their futures.

How Colorado students perform on state standardized tests has no impact on their academic record. Test score results do, however, play a major role in school and school district ratings. And the plan is to use some of that data for teacher evaluations as well.

Responding to the mass number of opt-outs, state lawmakers killed the senior tests in legislation this spring.

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