The Washington Post reports that Arkansas joined Ohio in dumbing down what constitutes proficiency on the standardized test used last school year to measure academic proficiency.

Arkansas, like Ohio, decreed that a score of 3 on the 1-5 grade scale reflected proficiency, when the makers of the PARCC test, aligned to the Common Core curriculum, said a 4 is proficient.

Big difference. Under Arkansas’s reading of the scores, 60 percent were proficient at Algebra I and 64 percent proficient at reading, when the numbers should have been 28 and 36.

The PARCC test has been junked. It was used only one year. A new test will be used this year, giving three different measures of students over three years. From the Post story:

Kimberly Friedman, a spokesman for the Arkansas education department, said that officials are “preparing follow-up information to parents and the state” that clarifies that students who score a 3 have only “approached academic expectations,” according to PARCC.

Friedman did not immediately respond to a question about whether that might be confusing to parents of students who score a 3 — to be told on the one hand that their children are on track for college readiness, and on the other hand that they are merely approaching academic expectations.

This is troubling.

NOW they’re going to tell us the truth. Proficiency and approaching proficiency are two different things. (Of course this is apart from the whole question of reliance on high-stakes testing as a measure of education.)

More to come on this story.

The Post linked to this critical assessment of the Arkansas decision.

Reporting on state efforts to gloss over poor scores began in the Post in mid-September. “Bad optics,” the states were realizing. Karen Nussle of the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, was quoted then about Ohio’s lowering of the proficiency standard:

Proficiency as defined by the Ohio State Board of Education is inconsistent with how proficiency is defined by both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card.

This discrepancy should give pause to parents, community leaders and policy makers who expect transparency in Ohio’s transition to higher standards and new tests.

According to the state, more than half of Ohio students who took the PARCC exam are now officially proficient in math and English. Both PARCC and NAEP, however, would consider that percentage to be significantly lower. The discrepancy suggests that Ohio has set the proficiency bar too low and undermines the promise of ensuring kids are on track for college and career.

You could apply these same words today to Arkansas. Benji Hardy grappled with how the meaning of the PARCC scores and how “cut scores” were reached last week. The PARCC scores even at the state’s adjusted rate already reflected a drop, he concluded, from the previous year’s proficiency scores on the different test. His analysis included the nationally developed scoring range that accurately reflects an “approaching proficiency” rating for a score of 3.

UPDATE: The Education Department has responded in part to several questions by splitting hairs, in my opinion.

A department spokesman said in reference to its announcement of scores last week:

The press release does not include the term proficient. Proficient is the term used by the old assessment.

We are preparing follow-up information to parents and the state that clarifies the performance levels as established by PARCC. These levels indicate academic readiness of students: Level 5 exceeded academic expectations; Level 4 met academic expectations; Level 3 approached academic expectations; Level 2 partially met academic expectations; and Level 1 did not yet meet expectations

But this is what the news release last week said:

The State Board of Education approved the score ranges for each of the five reporting categories as established by the PARCC consortium. For Arkansas schools, students scoring at levels 3 and above are considered on track for college and career readiness.

Does a 3 sound more like proficient in the news release than “approached academic expectations”? And if it isn’t misleading, why is any clarification in order?