Now pretend you are setting proficiency standards. Where would these students fall out on an advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic scale for this assignment (the subject matter of which admittedly was overly-difficult, although, the task of writing a position paper was not.)
Have you determined your standards yet and the approximate percentage of students falling within each category? Don't read on until you have.
Now where would you predict the commonwealth of Pennsylvania would set their standards? What percentage of students would be advanced? What percentage would be proficient? Basic? Below basic.
Last April, 11th graders took Pennsylvania's writing exam. Here is how the SLA students fared:
Below Basic: 0%
The 2009 PSSA Writing School Level Proficiency Results, p. 266.
Your eyesight isn't failing you. 100% of SLA 11th graders were proficient or above in Pennsylvania's writing assessment.
Bear in mind that Pennsylvania falls out somewhere in the middle of the states as far as where the PSSA exam falls out relative to the NAEP in Reading and Math. See Figures 2 and 3. Sadly, 11th graders don't take the NAEP writing exam. Only 8th graders do. 36% of 8th graders were proficient on the NAEP writing assessment.
Sherman Dorn is right to point out that the NAEP cut scores have been arbitrarily set. However, whenever I look at actual test NAEP questions or how students perform on state tests which relative to NAEP are low, it's hard to come to a conclusion that arbitrary necessarily means too high. If anyuthing it's just the opposite.
Update: Some more perspective. Here's the breakdown of SLA's 11th graders based on the writing test statistics: 36.2% are white, 49.1% are black, 15.3% are Asian or Hispanic, and 30.1% are economically disadvantaged. Also, students need to apply and be accepted to SLA. Here is the admission criteria:
Criteria: Admission to SLA is based on a combination of a student interview at the school with a presentation of completed work, strong PSSA scores, As and Bs with the possible exception of one C, teacher or counselor recommendation and good attendance and punctuality. Interested families must contact the school to set up an appointment for an interview. SLA will not initiate the interview process with families.Just in case you thought SLA was teeming with abjectly-impoverished inner city kids with abusive parents and poor language skills who really don't want to be in school anyway.