CST results need an *

Since 2008, increasing numbers of low-performing special education students have been taking a new and easier standardized test rather than the California Standardized Tests. While it’s appropriate for many of them to take the California Modified Assessment, the exclusion of 185,000 special education students this year had the effect of appreciably boosting the statewide CST scores.

That’s been the contention of Doug McRae, a retired executive who oversaw the design of standardized tests nationwide and has raised the issue with the State Board of Education. On Monday, he once again did the calculations to show the impact.

Factoring in the CMA effect, the statewide increase in proficiency on the CSTs in 2011 would have been 1.6 percent, not 2.05 percent, as the state Department of Education has stated. And the four-year effect of diverting special education students to CMA had an inflationary effect of 26 percent, according to McRae. The cumulative increase in proficiency would have been 8.95 percent instead of 11.25 percent, had the students taken the CST instead of the CMA.

California is one of two dozen states to create a modified assessment for special education students, as permitted by the federal Department of Education. Only those students who do poorly on the CST the previous year, with a below basic or far below basic score in math or English Language Arts, are eligible to take the CMA in that subject area. The state introduced the CMA for grades 3-5 in 2008, grades 6-8 in 2009, and for grades 9-11 over the past two years. The number of students taking the CMA increased from 39,000 to 184,000 in four years (see chart).

(source: Doug McRae)
(source: Doug McRae)

The federal Dept. of Education expected that no more than 2 percent of a state’s student body would take the modified exam. This year, 4.4 percent of students took the CMA, more  than 40 percent of special education students. According to McRae, “the number of students taking the CMA far exceeds initial plans for this test, and are likely to increase to an alarming percentage of the entire group of Special Education students in California.”

(The CMA data are part of McRae’s analysis of the latest CST scores. Readers interested in reading more can find the full text here.)

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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