School districts question writing test scores

Published: Jun. 9, 2014 at 9:41 PM CDT
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CACHE, Okla._There's another controversy involving the company that conducts Oklahoma's standardized tests, this time it's the scores on the writing test for 5th and 8th graders that many districts say are suspect.

The results of the tests, conducted by CTB/McGraw-Hill, showed that an unusually large percentage of students were given the same scores in all five elements of the exam. Since the scoring for writing is somewhat subjective, and tests a wide range of skills, many teachers believe it's highly unlikely that the tests were scored properly.

Right now, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is standing by the results and so is the company. If a school district wants to have the test re-scored the company will do it, but if the score doesn't change it will cost the school $125 per test. That's a frustrating situation for districts like Cache, where some of their higher-level fifth-graders received identical scores across the board and landed in the "limited knowledge" range.

After discovering what she believed was a mistake, Cache District Testing Coordinator Tammie Reynolds asked the company how this could be.

"And their response was, 'That is indicative of plagiarism.' And we're like 'Okay.' Plagiarism though not in the traditional sense that they copied something from somewhere else, but plagiarism in the sense that they over-cited," said Reynolds.

Reynolds says they've taught students to cite sources, just like the State Department of Education told them to, and then were penalized for it. The test had five objectives, or sections, ranging from ideas and organization to grammar and punctuation. Each objective was scored on a range of one to four, with four being the best score.

"What we saw though, was that if one student got one score for one objective, then they, a lot of times, got that score all the way across," said Reynolds.

This showed up in about 80 percent of the scores at Cache, as well other districts in the state. Reynolds says students' receiving the same score is unheard of and now they don't have the accurate data they need for next year.

"If we see that students did really well in grammar but had problems in idea development, then we go back to that fifth grade teacher and say how did we teach this," explained Reynolds.

Reynolds says they would use that information to adjust their curriculum for the following year, so the scores they have are basically useless to the district. Another issue is the qualifications of the graders, they were told they do have to have a bachelor's degree but they do not have to be educators.

"We've put a lot of work into this. As a teacher, we go to training in the summer and throughout the year. I mean the day in and day out with the students and to get that test at the end of the year, grading by temporary workers or not, need to be graded correctly," said Reynolds.

Reynolds thinks the tests should be re-graded for free, not the$125 the company is asking for. She says if they are not re-graded, the teachers will go back through the tests individually to find out the strengths and weaknesses of their students.

Another district in the area with scoring problems was Elgin. The Elgin district says they will be appealing them, because, if the scores are not recalculated, they will reflect poorly on the district's grades and on teacher evaluations.

Lawton Public School's have not reported any problems in their test scoring.