AR ADE Spins Lower Test Scores Real Truth About Low Benchmark Scores in Arkansas

posted November 2005



Why Did ADE Commissioner Ken James

Raise the Bar on 4th Grade Benchmark Test

And Lower it On the 8th Grade Test?

(ADE Test Inflation)


“He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers.”


Ken James, the state department of Education commissioner, attributed the fourth grade decline  in the fourth-graders 2005 Arkansas Benchmark Exam score to the department’s “raising the bar” on the scores those pupils needed to make, saying . "We're not apologizing for raising the bar because we've said consistently, as performance increased, we'd continue to ratchet up the standards," James said. Sadler, Arkansas News Bureau Oct. 6, 05. (A hint that this is just spin: no where has it been noted that the bar for the 8th Grade Proficient has been lowered 8 points.)  


Just why did Arkansas raise the bar on those 4th grade benchmark tests??  Compare the quotes from the head of one department of ADE and that of ADE Commissioner Ken James which are very different.


In  response to a complaint in August, 2005 ,  as to why  the benchmark scores were so late coming in and  causing  all kinds of scheduling problems across the state, the head of one ADE department had this to say:  “This situation with the delay in test scores can’t be helped.  According to Act 35 there has to be a continuum from one year to the next so we can determine the yearly learning that takes place (longitudinal tracking).  The teachers are having to decide the cut scores so that all cut points will be on the same scale.  It was probably bad that in the past those deciding the cut scores didn’t look at any other grade levels.  That meant the scores couldn’t be compared up until now, but because of Act 35 this has to be done.   The teachers have had to decide the cutoff scores that will be necessary for students to score in each level, Basic, Below Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.  This is the longitudinal tracking that is required by ACT 35.”


In contrast, James said in a letter to parents, reassuring them not to be concerned about the lower 4th grade scores and  explaining that 65% of fourth graders scored proficient or above last year but that had dropped to 50 percent this year,  “The Arkansas Department of Education has said all along that we would ratchet up expectations as we improved performance levels. We’ve done that this year.” Nowhere in the 2 page letter to parents did he  mention the legislation requiring the changes.


( Neither did Ken James  mention that instead of ratcheting up the cutoff scores for 8th grade math the same year, 2005, the cutoff score has been lowered 10%.  In the past students had to score 47 points out of 80 on the raw score and beginning this year the cutoff score is 39 points out of 80 or  a 49%. ) 


In reality, as admitted by one ADE department head,  the benchmark tests had fallacies that had to be corrected when longitudinal testing was required by legislation so students could show the right amount of progress.  After the legislation was passed for longitudinal tracking,  if students score too  high in lower grades, they wouldn’t show any progress in upper grades.  So it appears the cutoff score in 4th grade must be raised  so fewer students would score proficient,  and the 8th grade cutoff score lowered so more students could score proficient in order for the students to appear to be making progress.   So there is a rhyme and reason for all this changing the tests cutoff scores and starting anew on a new trend line as Ken James calls it in his letter to parents.


Ken James said,  “We basically offered a brand new test to these six grades.  Therefore, the results on this year’s tests cannot and should not be compared to last year’s scores.”  How convenient to keep changing the tests so they can’t be compared and followed through accountability procedures!  James did  plainly say "The bottom line is that the scores are lower because we set new cut points,"  and that  educators had set new cut scores for grades three through eight in each subject.    We know who the educators are guided by, don’t we?  97% of superintendents and 96% of teachers in an Arkansas survey in 2003 said “The new educational reforms have been a top down approach with educational bureaucrats and/or legislators making most or all of the significant decisions. In 2003,  83% of  superintendents and 88% of teachers in an Arkansas survey said, “The State Department of Education is placing too much emphasis on test scores and is coercing educators to teach to the test.  There was a  50% return on the superintendent surveys.   See these two links:


   In former years 4th grade students could score PROFICIENT with a raw score of only  34 points out of 80 (you read it right, 45 points out of 80 or 43%).  No wonder in the past years that 65% of the students in 4th grade math  were able to score at the Proficient level or above.   Proficient is one of the four NAEP achievement levels representing solid academic performance at grade level and would pretty much correspond to a B in traditional grading.  (In 8th Grade math, students starting this year have to score a whopping 39 points out of 80, a 49% to make Proficient. That 8th grade cut score was lowered 8 points this year and 7th graders can score only  38  points out of 80 pts or a 48% to make Proficient.


Just how high is the bar or cutoff scores for the Benchmark Test now?  Starting this year,  those 4th grade math students  have to reach that incredibly  high  score of 45  points out of 80  in math (a 56%  to make Proficient on these so called rigorous benchmark tests)   The state requires teachers to give students a failing score (F) if they score lower than a 60% on school work and tests.


Cutoff Score for Proficient Achievement Level in Math on Arkansas Benchmark Tests

 After  Bar was Raised (Of  80 possible raw points)




Percent Score

Grade 3

40 out of 80 pts.


Grade 4

45 out of 80 pts.


Grade 5

43 out of 80 pts


Grade 6

46 out of 80 pts.


Grade 7

38 out of 80 pts


Grade 8

39 out of 80 pts


Link to this year’s cutoff scores but not for previous years because it is not on the web.


ADE and Commissioner Ken James has said that last year’s test and this year’s test can’t be compared.  However, if you look at the raw scores when students had to score only 43% to earn Proficient and 65% of 4th graders in math  reached that level, it would be logical that if Arkansas required students to score 50% correct rather than 43%,  the percentage of students would drop from about 65%% to 50% just as it did this year.  “If the cut scores had remained the same’, James said, the percentage of fourth-graders performing at grade level would be in the 70s [instead of the 50s]. "


It would also be very logical if Arkansas  set the cutoff score to a reasonable percentage like requiring a cutoff of say 65 points out of 80 (80%)  to be proficient rather than the 45 cutoff score used this year,  that our scores would probably match those on the NAEP. On the NAEP ,  34% of 4th graders scored at proficient or better, but on the Arkansas benchmark discussed above, 50% scored Proficient.   I think this fits the definition of “grade inflation” to a T.  And who is guilty of grade inflation – The Arkansas Department of Education.  Be sure to see links below for other deceptive scores given by the ADE


The scale scores for the older cutoff scores are hidden away on the website somewhere but not the raw score.   You have to get those by determination and having them sent through the mail,  or else a link would be provided for that.  The link to this year’s cutoff scores is below the chart above (we had to be guided to that on the computer as well.)  The ADE website is not a user friendly website to say the least. Even after you find the documents, there are no dates on them so you still have no documentation after you print them off or send by email.  This is the pattern for all their test scores.  (If someone  needs the documentation for these older cutoff scores, call 501-682-4475.  They are called "ACTAAP Raw to Scale Score Conversion Tables for Mathematics  and there will be one for 4th, 8th, and 6th grade and then one for each grade for literacy for each grade, 6 pages.) 


This article on the web at this link:

See this link for "Test Inflation by the Government in Arkansas"

See this link for "Arkansas Dept. of Education Presents Deceptive Scores" (03)  %20ADE%20Deceptive%20Scores%20Altheimer.htm

 ADE Director Ray Simon Gives False Information About Test Scores (03)

Arkansas Test Scores from 1987 to 2003 in Table Form With Amount of Money Spent

Arkansas Bombs NCLB Accountability Standards ADE Says Bad Means Good????


Debbie Pelley






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