Friday, March 23, 2012

Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia: Using end-of-course assessments to identify grade inflation

States are showing greater interest in transitioning to end-of-course assessments (EOCs) at the high school level, as identified in an ECS report released earlier this month. While many cite a common list of benefits of EOCs--holding students accountable for grade-level expectations, ensuring common, statewide, rigorous expectations for courses bearing the same name ("Algebra I") being among those most commonly noted--another benefit of EOCs is their potential to identify and address grade inflation.

Arkansas legislation establishes a process whereby districts, upon 30 days of a student's completion of a course with an EOC, must submit each student's name and course grade to the Division of Public School Accountability in the state department of education. The division is then responsible for matching each student's name with the student's score on the EOC, reporting to the district each student's EOC score matched with the student's letter grade in the course, and creating two reports--one indicating the percentage of students who earned a "B" in the course and who did not pass the EOC.

The legislation then requires the division to annually report to the legislature and the state board the name, address and superintendent of any high school in which more than 20% of students received a "B" or above on a course but did not pass the corresponding EOC on the first try. The report must also indicate the number of students per high school receiving at least a "B" in a course but who did not pass the corresponding EOC on the first try.

The department must then investigate the classroom practices of any district in which more than 20% of students earned a "B" or higher in a course but did not pass the EOC on the first try, and provide written recommendations to the superintendent and local board on "changes that would improve classroom instruction and student performance on" EOCs. (A.C.A. § 6-15-421)

Tennessee, meanwhile, requires that when a school's mean of teacher-assigned grades and mean of EOC scores are "significantly different as determined" by state board policy, "the school must develop and implement strategies in the School Improvement Plan to ameliorate such differences. Until such time that the State Department of Education recommends, based upon an appropriate statistical analysis, and the State Board of Education approves an acceptable measure of disparity, schools and school systems should consider differences between [10] and [15] or more points to be too large and develop and implement strategies through the School Improvement Plan to ameliorate such differences." (Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0520-01-03-.06 (2)(d))

While it is not clear that Georgia has a specific policy to identify grade inflation via its EOCs, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement did commission a report in 2008 to analyze how EOC results measured up against district grading practices. The comparison at the bottom of this chart of the percentage of students statewide who failed their EOC vs. students who failed the corresponding course is particularly telling. In Economics, for example, more than 35% of students failed the EOC, while less than 6% failed their economics course. In no subject area were there more students failing the course than failing the EOC, although the analysis suggests that did appear to be the case in isolated districts. The full set of reports from this analysis is at the bottom of this page.

Results such as these from Georgia reinforce the importance of including EOC scores as a portion of a student's final grade in a course. While everyone can have a bad day and perform poorly on a test--and consequently, EOC scores should not overshadow other factors in student final course grades--completely leaving EOC scores out of final course grades may open the doors for grade inflation, which by many accounts is on the rise in U.S. high schools. And the results from Georgia districts where there seemed to be a concentration of tough graders also point out the importance of identifying and reining in stringent grading practices, that may hurt students' chances of earning merit scholarships and college admission that take GPA into account.Link

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