Test Inflation by the Government in Arkansas Real Truth About Low Benchmark Scores in Arkansas


Real Truth Behind Those Low 4th Grade Benchmark 2005 Test Scores

(33% on 4th grade Arkansas benchmark earned achievement score of  Basic)


A lower percentage of the state’s fourth-graders are performing at grade level this year according to the 205 Arkansas Benchmark Exam score released Wednesday, October 06, 2005. 


Ken James, the state department of Education commissioner, attributed the fourth grade decline to the department’s “raising the bar” on the scores those pupils needed to make. "The bottom line is that the scores are lower because we set new cut points," James said.  (However, no where has it been noted that the bar for the 8th Grade Proficient has been lowered 8 points, more than the 4th grade was raised.)  


In former years 4th grade math  students could score basic with a raw score of only 26 points out of 80. Yes, you read that right, 26 points out of 80 points (33%) earned a student  the score for Basic.  Just how high is the bar or cutoff scores for Basic on the  Benchmark Test now?  Starting this year,  those 4th grade math students  have to reach that whopping  high  score of 32  points out of 80  in math (a 40%) to make Basic on these so called rigorous benchmark tests.  Third grade math students will only have to make 23 out of 80 pts to score Basic.  (Teachers are required by the ADE to give an F to any  student who scores anything lower than a 60 percent.)


  I chose Basic achievement level here for comparison  because ADE chose to use Basic scores  on the ADE website to show test results in Arkansas this year, knowing the papers would pick up those scores, which they did.  ADE knew that practically no one, even educators, would know that students would only have to get  anywhere between 23 to 30 points out of 80 (29 to 35%) to score Basic in the various grade levels 3rd through 8th.  (See chart below)   


And the name Basic sounds like a C, right?  In reality, anyone making a Basic (or below) has to be remediated.  The ADE used that category to make the  scores  look better.  The ADE should have used Proficient achievement level since that is the achievement level that means grade level, but the percentages scoring Basic and above were so much higher and looked so much better!


Cutoff Score for Basic Achievement Level in Math on Arkansas Benchmark Tests after the Bar Was Raised, Fall 05.  (Of  80 possible raw points)




Percent Score

Grade 3

23 out of 80 pts.


Grade 4

32 out of 80 pts.


Grade 5

31 out of 80 pts


Grade 6

30 out of 80 pts.


Grade 7

28 out of 80 pts


Grade 8

30 out of 80 pts



This is the link for this year’s cutoff scores but not for previous years.


Ray Simon, Former ADE Direction said in a legislative committee  “Those assessments [benchmarks] must correlate to the frameworks.  We must test students on what they are expected to know.”  Gayle Teale Potter, longtime  Assistant Director of Assessments,  said in comparing nationally normed tests and the Arkansas benchmark criterion tests “When you get the criterion referenced scores back you’re seeing how the kids are doing against an absolute standard and it’s a much higher standard [than nationally normed test].” 


  These remarks have been reiterated over and over by the ADE.  So then why are the cut scores so low on these Arkansas Benchmark Tests?  Evidently students are not doing very well on those absolute standards and are not expected to know very much over material they have been drilled in now for years!  In reality, those  absolute standards can be manipulated in order for the ADE to get the desired results.  Even Ken James admitted as much when saying the low scores in 4th grade mean nothing except the curve has been changed, “’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]. "The bottom line is that the scores are lower because we set new cut points," James said.   James said this year’s results, because they are based on new cut scores, begin new trend lines that the department will use for future comparisons of progress. Arkansas Democrat Gazette Oct 11, 05 by Wescler.   


(And although the ADE raised the cutoff score on the 4th Grade Benchmark, they lowered the cutoff score for 8th Grade Math Proficient  score by 8 points. See next email for this data on Proficiency Scores and just why ADE Commissioner Ken James had to raise the bar on the 4th grade cut score  because of  a law.)    


 That doesn’t sound like absolute standards or a criterion referenced test  to me.  It is obvious  the ADE controls how many students they want to fit into each achievement level and can change a number of things to make that work – like the cutoff scored in this case, the difficulty of the test, or changing the test so it can’t be compared to the former years.  “While saying the scores cannot be compared to previous years' tests, James maintained the outcomes were strong and "speak well for the effort put forth across the state by students and educators alike." AR News  Bureau, Oct 6 by Sadler.  That way the public can be made to believe whatever the government wants them to believe. 


Thus the fate of  all the schools in Arkansas depends upon the decision of a few ADE executives who decide how they want the scores to fall on a capricious, experimental test.  For failing to improve, schools can be consolidated, or the entire district taken over by the state.   “A total of 274 of Arkansas’ approximately 1,100 public schools have been tagged  because of low scores on the Arkansas Benchmark and End-of-Course exams.  Arkansas Democrat Gazette by Cynthia  Howell, Nov. 3, 05


The entire testing system has been totally corrupted. “Aligning the curriculum” is just a euphemism for teaching the test.  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.   If educators in Arkansas decided to “align the curriculum” to one particular  I.Q. test and teach that curriculum exclusively to the students for years, no doubt Arkansas would appear to have the smartest kids in the nation.    The kids wouldn’t have any more natural ability than before; the tests would just be corrupted and mean nothing, and the students would know less.  That is exactly what has happened with the testing in Arkansas and the nation. In addition, Arkansas and other states have used so called experts to design the tests which have no validity as exemplified below.   Links to Superintendent & Teacher Survey.






Arkansas  State 4th Grade Student  Math Scores in 2005  

  • Only 34%  of Arkansas students  scored Proficient or above on the NAEP test (called the Nation’s Report Card)  in 2005.

  • 50%  of Arkansas students scored Proficient or above on the Arkansas Benchmark Tests.

  • On the Iowa Basic Skills (ITBS),  nationally normed test 4th  grade students scored at the 68 percentile (top third of the nation) in math.

  • So are these students in the bottom third, middle, or top third of students in the nation?    I am sure this is very helpful information for the teacher in working with these students!

Arkansas State 8th Grade Student Math Scores in 2005

  • Only 22% of  Arkansas students scored proficient or above on the NAEP test (called the Nation’s Report Card).  Only nine states in the nation scored lower than Arkansas at this grade level on the NAEP .

  •  33% of Arkansas students scored Proficient or Above  on the Arkansas Benchmark Exams which are aligned with the NAEP - according to all ADE personnel.

  •  On the Iowa Basic Skills (ITBS)  nationally normed test,  8th grade students scored  at the 54Th percentile.  

  • So are these 8th Grade Math  students in the bottom quartile, bottom third, or top half? 

Wonder why the ADE doesn’t do up a table or chart like above on all grades for this so called “transparent” testing system?  See other test scores at end of email below.


It is all so complex, the government can spin it any way it wants, and who will know the difference?  One  would have to spend 100 hours like I have just fishing out the data.  Yet we have spent 21.6 million (an increase from 5.2 million in 2003-2004) in 04-05  this year for this! July 26, 05  Cynthia Howell ADG  Hey, but we supposedly saved 2.4 million on administrative consolidation (when the increased salaries for teachers to bring them up to level to the school  into which they merged and transportation is not even included).


Tell me how an educator or a citizen can interpret this type of data and of what good is it to them? Is this testing approach any better than the traditional grading method that we used in recent centuries. As a teacher I was always somewhat surprised to find that when I gave a student an A (or a B,C,or D) that 90% of the other teachers had given that student the same grade.  That is an example of  correlation and validity which is totally lacking in the testing system we now have.    


The state of Arkansas decided to reinvent the wheel and construct its own tests.  It appears the Education Reform Emperor is not wearing any clothes but is fooling the entire state of Arkansas and bringing great burdens on its educators, taxpayers, and  students.


In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act!


Debbie Pelley



P.S. Just how hard is it to find these raw  cut scores to compare past years to this year in this so called “transparent” testing system?  The ADE doesn’t even have the “Raw to Scale Score Conversion Table” on computer.  After a great deal of effort and going to the heads of two different departments,  we were able to get them mailed to us but only after a great deal of persistence.  In fact 3 ADE employees in  two departments  ADE couldn’t show me on the web  where to find all the  benchmark results for this year’s scores.  I presume they are not on there.  I was finally directed to the Proficient scores for this last year, but as yet haven’t been directed to any other achievement levels.


The ADE hired an inexperienced  company (Advanced Systems)  to design these Arkansas  tests.  The president of this company said, “We couldn’t afford to hire anybody who knew anything about tests, so we hired people who were bright and committed.”  This testing company had a 29.5 million contract with Kentucky but was fired after a number of years  because they had failed to deliver a “usable product.”  The Kentucky Senate voted 35-1 to scrap the test. In a survey of 450 teachers, 83% indicated the Arkansas benchmark tests were poorly designed. (information taken from "Little Firm that Could" www/teacher mag.org, June 8, 1994 Education Week)  For you who will understand this, Advanced Systems probably earned their reputation because in 1993 they  took part in the New Standards Project, which seeks to establish a world-class standard of performances for all students in the US.  New Standards Project is a branch of the NCEE, National Center onf Education and the Economy, headed by Marc Tucker, Hillary Clinton's friend


                     This article on the web at this link: 



        See this Link for Why did ADE Commisioner James Spins Low Test Scores



        See this link for Why Test Scores Are Lower in Arkansas  Now Than in 1984



        See this link for Arkansas Department of  Education Presents Deceptive Scores (03)



        ADE Director Ray Simon Gives False Information About Test Scores




4th and 8th Grades Reading and Math are the ones the NAEP (so called nation's report card) uses:

4th Grade Reading 2005

NAEP  29%
Benchmark 52%
ITBS  62%
8th Grade Reading 2005
NAEP 26%
Benchmark 57%
ITBS 53%


Debbie Pelley







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