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On Cut Scores, Scale Scores and the Meaning of MEAP

While standardized test scores come with complex calculations, a simple question can also help measure a child's success.

I've spent hours talking and reading about the one test that seems to matter to parents above all others.

Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test results were released Wednesday, and that same day, I and two other reporters met with Farmington Public Schools MEAP guru, Kristin Gekiere. This was the second time in three months that we talked about the tests; she also explained last fall the impact of new "cut" scores implemented this year.

I don't think anyone's going to argue that the cut scores – test scores that determine whether a student is judged "advanced", "proficient", "partially proficient" or "not proficient" – needed to change. The previous definition allowed a student to get just 40 percent of the answers correct to be judged proficient in some subject areas. 

Gekiere explained how the new scores were determined; student performance comes down to a mathematical equation involving Michigan Merit Exam (MME) scores, success in passing a course, and intercepts and slopes of something called "logistic regression". 

(The MME is given to high school students as a measure for determining college readiness.)

The new cut score defining whether students are successful on the MME represents the likelihood that a student will receive an A or a B in freshman college coursework. And working back, the new cut scores for proficiency on MEAP represent the likelihood that a student will earn an A or B at the next grade level. 

A video about MEAP cut scores posted on the district's website notes that statisticians and other experts disagree about whether the new cut scores are a good way to judge a student's potential success. Even Gekiere wonders about the reliability of numbers based on what happens during a student's freshman year in college, when so much can change.

On Wednesday, she explained another, less complex tool for measuring student success, called "scale scores". Simply put, they're the result when you divide all the scores in each subject area and grade level by the number of students being tested.

There's meaning for school officials in all this data. As a reporter, I have to confess, it didn't clear up much for me.   

I can't imagine what today's parents face as they try to determine how their children are performing in school. But the answer probably lies in something Gekiere has said again and again: The MEAP and scale scores are just data points the district uses to measure student progress. 

And perhaps the most important data point is the answer you get when you ask your child, "So, what did you do in school today?". 

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