Laura H. Chapman, a frequent contributor to the blog, who has been a teacher, arts educator, curriculum designer, now retired, writes the following provocative contribution:

There is a well funded marketing campaign to sustain the Common Core and the associated tests.
One facet of the current campaign is designed to lower public expectations about the success of students on the SBAC and PARCC tests and to say, in effect, that cut scores on these tests will to set to approximate the operational definition of proficiency and the pass on NAEP tests, Only students who score at nearly the highest level on NAEP tests are dubbed proficient. 
There is also a bit of distraction going on, because SBAC has already announced cut scores based on its field trials in 21 states. There is another little known fact: When PARCC and SBAC applied for federal funding, they promised to make their scores comparable.
PARCC will “coordinate with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium on… artificial intelligence scoring, setting achievement levels, and anchoring high school assessments in the knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for postsecondary education and careers.” Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. (2010, December 23). Proposal for supplemental race to the top assessment award. Retrieved from p. 3
Similarly, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) asserts: “SBAC and PARCC are strongly committed to ensuring comparability between their assessments…[including] collaborative standard setting that will facilitate valid comparisons of achievement levels (cut scores) in each consortium’s summative test…” SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. (2011, January 6). Supplemental funding budget narrative submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. p. 31. Retrieved from p. 31

Producers of the SBAC tests have their set “cut scores” to report on four levels of performance. Level 1 signals failure. Level 2 indicates “at risk of failure.” Level 3 implies “safe harbor, doing well.” Level 4 means “proficient.” For students in grade 11, only Level 4 indicates readiness for entry-level, credit-bearing courses in college.

Across the grades, in math and ELA, about 11% of students are estimated to score at 4, the highest level and the one that indicates, in the eleventh grade, readiness for entry-level, credit-bearing courses in college. So, that will be very bad news, and it will make news when all of the test scores are gathered in.

The SBAC cut scores in math are estimated to assign 67% of grade 11 students to Level 1 or Level 2, with most (40%) at Level 1. In many states, students who score at Level 1 will also place teachers and administrators at risk of being fired, perhaps with the whole school in line for closure. In addition, many schools will just assign students even more test prep in math, at the risk of harming students’ love for learning and affinities for inquiries that are not driven by tests.

The cut scores for English Language Arts are estimated to place about 59% of students at Level 1 and Level 2, with about 32% at Level 1. Students with these scores are certain to be in the same boat, receiving more test prep. In states like Ohio that guarantee “proficiency” in reading by grade three, 62% of students are likely to fall short, up to 82% if that rule and the meaning of proficiency corresponds to SBAC’s Level 4 definition of “proficiency.”

In any case, the cut score issue is not a trivial matter given the high stakes that federal and state officials have deliberately and foolishly attached to tests, tests that are not “objective” and cut scores that are not “objective” but judgments–and these detached from any concern for the consequences to individual students and all public schools.

Proponents of the Common Core and tests are worried about the political fall-out when the test scores are released in a form that allows stack ratings among all the states that sighed up for the Common Core and have advertised that they have tests aligned with the standards.

They should be worried. Gurus of spin at the American Enterprise Institute suggest how to spin that news. They suggest that the scores should be played down, that news should avoid crisis rhetoric about poor performance. They recommend framing the testing outcomes as just another step on a path “to continuous improvement” in student learning.

That soft “slow-and-steady-as-we-go message” provides cover for policy makers who want to delay high stakes decisions based on these test scores but still use them as a baseline for judging gains in performance for the following year. This delaying tactic may buy time to reset expectations for learning, but it will not stop the obsessive use of test scores and relentless test prep than now dominates life in many schools.

For advocates of the “one size fits all” standards and tests, the comparability in scores from SBAC and PARCC tests means this: Every state that signed up for this grand and nearly maniacal experiment in standardized education will be rated as winners or losers by these supposedly “objective tests.”

The governors and the state education officials who signed adoption papers for this grand experiment in standardized education may be out of office, but current officials will be questioned about the results. Handling the political fall-out will be tricky, especially with an election season heating up, budget problems in many states, and the dueling minds and messages of politicians (notably Republicans, but also Democrats) who support or condemn the Common Core and tests, and many others who have no mindful views other than spin provided to them.

All of the investors in pushing the Common Core–Achieve, the National Governor’s Association the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Gates foundation and buddies along with venture capitalists–want to keep PARCC and SBAC in place, including Common Core “aligned” tests other than those from PARCC and SBAC.

Why? Do not believe the spin about the global economy and needed skills for the 21st century workplace, and all of the other sales pitches.

Test scores with high stakes consequences are the weapon of choice for expanding market-based education. The more students, teachers, and schools fail, the faster the collapse of public education.

As Diane Ravitch and others have said over and over, the cut scores for NAEP “proficiency” are high. NCLB never defined proficiency, Race to the Top did but only in terms of college and career ready specifications, not cut scores or tests.

Achieve has manufactured a “proficiency gap” that looks impressive to a casual viewer, but it is hot air. The proficiency gap is a version of the achievement gap. The kids and the teachers are the problem. The standards and the tests are perfect.