Is “Average” a Question on the PARCC Tests?


The front-page Providence Journal headline, “R.I. PARCC results near average,” jumped out at me, yesterday, so I had to take a closer look at the results from the nine states that have released comparable results.  The upshot depends what “near average” means.

Of the twelve tests (six grades, two tests each) listed, Rhode Island is an overall four percentage points below the other states’ results.  That means an additional 4% of Rhode Island students would have met-or-exceeded expectations if the state were average.  The results vary, though, from average in third-grade English to a 14-percentage-point deficit in eighth-grade math.

This comparison is dubious, though.  Is Rhode Island really comparable to New Mexico and Arkansas?  Take them out, and RI’s overall deficit is eight percentage points, ranging from four to 19.

Looking at a ranking of the nine states gives a better sense of Rhode Island’s relative performance.  On only two of the 12 tests (third- and fifth-grade English) did Rhode Island land in the top half of states — just barely, in fourth place.  Overall, Rhode Island would be seventh out of nine, beating only New Mexico and Arkansas.

In a foot race, one could say that a runner came in only a little bit behind the middle group, or one could say that he or she came in last, not counting the two out-of-shape kids at the back of the pack.

Oh, and one more thing: The article explains Massachusetts’s success (if having around 45% of students failing to meet expectations can be considered a success) in the words of Massachusetts Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson: “By the time Massachusetts students took PARCC, they had the benefit of 22 years of improvements.”

An important asterisk on that assertion provides some warning for the future.  As I’ve pointed out before, when friend-of-the-teachers-union Governor Deval Patrick diluted accountability measures in Massachusetts, in 2006, the state’s NAEP scores stagnated and have been falling since 2011 and may be overtaken as the nation’s leader when the next NAEP results come out in 2017.