Emma Brown of the Washington Post explains that DC test scores in math reached a historic high point because of a decision by DC officials.

But the math gains officials reported were the result of a quiet decision to score the tests in a way that yielded higher scores even though D.C. students got far fewer math questions correct than in the year before.

The decision was made after D.C. teachers recommended a new grading scale — which would have held students to higher standards on tougher math tests — and after officials reviewed projections that the new scale would result in a significant decline in math proficiency rates.

Instead, city officials chose to discard the new grading approach and hold students to a level of difficulty similar to previous years’, according to city officials as well as e-mails and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Brown writes:In the District, the discarded grading scale would have yielded a mixed picture of achievement on the 2013 tests. The reading proficiency rate would have been 6.6 points higher than was reported in 2012, but math would have been 3.6 points lower.

The choice that D.C. officials faced suggests that proficiency rates — which are used to make employment and pay decisions for teachers and principals and to judge the city’s efforts to improve public education — are as much a product of policymakers’ decisions as they are of student performance.

The lesson in this episode is not that DC officials are not to be trusted, but that the scoring of tests is a matter of human judgment, not science.

The human judgment may be based on political considerations. Or not.

But we must stop believing that standardized tests are a scientific measure, like a barometer or a thermometer.

It is human beings who decide where the passing mark should be.

They may decide to make it easier or harder to pass.

But it is not science. It is human judgment.

Test scores are the result of subjective judgment, not objective measures.