PolitiFact: Knowing half the answers often enough to pass a CRCT test

This article was edited for length. To see a complete version and its sources, go to www.politifact.com/georgia/.

“In order to pass the CRCT in Georgia, you simply have to get half of the answers correct.” -- State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan during a speech March 20

A state lawmaker surprised us recently when she talked about what she said is the low threshold for Georgia students to pass an important exam.

“In order to pass the CRCT in Georgia, you simply have to get half of the answers correct,” said state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a Democrat from Cobb County.

Surely, Georgia students have to do better than that? PolitiFact Georgia thought we’d do some homework on the representative’s claim.

Morgan is running for state schools superintendent and was speaking against legislation that would create a study committee to look into the hotly debated Common Core policy and the federal government’s “increasingly greater role in public education.” The legislation, House Resolution 550, passed along party lines in the Republican-led state House by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Morgan voted against the legislation.

The CRCT stands for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. State law requires Georgia public school students in grades 3 through 8 to take the CRCT in reading, English/language arts, math, science and social studies. Students in grades 3, 5 and 8 must meet or exceed state standards in reading to be promoted to the next grade. Fifth- and eighth-graders must also meet or exceed state standards in math to be promoted.

In 2013, most Georgia students met or exceeded standards, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

When Morgan made her remarks during the debate on HR 550, she was referring to the “cut scores” to meet state standards, said Michael Brewer, her deputy campaign manager.

Cut scores vary from subject area and grade level. Georgia has two sets of cut scores: one for students who meet state standards and another for students who exceed the standards.

In order to meet state standards, students have to get only about one-half of the answers correct in a content area. Georgia students must get at least 75 percent to 80 percent of the answers correct in order to exceed state standards.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for state Schools Superintendent John Barge, told us the state wants to see higher scores, which may happen as soon as the 2014-15 school year.

“Our standards are definitely too low, and it needs to be higher,” Cardoza said.

Brewer sent us an article with the scores for the 2011-12 school year. The numbers show the cut scores were 50 percent or less in 16 of the 30 subjects for the six grade levels, also known as content areas. The highest pass rate was for third-grade math, at 57 percent.

The Georgia Department of Education sent us cut scores for 2012 and 2013. The 2012 cut scores were slightly different than what was in the article Brewer sent us, but they support Morgan’s claim. The cut scores were 50 percent or less in 17 of the 30 content areas. The highest cut score was for fourth-grade math, at 58 percent. In 2013, the cut scores were 50 percent or less in 18 of the 30 content areas. The highest cut score was for third- and fourth-grade math, at 57 percent.

Scott Marion, associate director of the Center for Assessment, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that works with schools to improve student achievement, said Morgan’s claim “is probably right,” but it requires deeper understanding.

Marion said the CRCT’s cut scores do not offer a true understanding of how well students understand course material.

“If everybody gets (the answers right), it’s giving me no information to understand the range of performance in a state,” said Marion, who has worked with educators in Georgia.

Marion used the example of Advanced Placement exams, which are widely recognized as meaningful indicators of student proficiency. He noted that to score a 3 on most of the AP exams — the minimum score on a scale of 5 that is acceptable for college credit — generally requires getting about 50 percent to 60 percent of the multiple-choice questions correct. AP tests also include essay questions.

“This is a good score on a challenging test,” Marion said. “But it is certainly not comparable to the traditional percent correct metric used for classroom assessment.”

Our conclusion

Morgan said “in order to pass the CRCT in Georgia, you simply have to get half of the answers correct.” In slightly more than half of the subjects for grades 3 through 8, she’s correct. The “cut scores” to meet state standards are a little higher in other areas, but not much higher.

We believe Morgan’s statement is largely on target but slightly missed some context. Our rating: Mostly True.