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Volume 22, Number 4
July/August 2006

Proficiency for What?

A Wyoming standards-setting panel weighs the impact of its decisions


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires states to ensure that all schoolchildren are “proficient” in reading, writing, and mathematics by 2014. But what does proficiency really mean? In what testing expert W. James Popham calls “a genuine atypicality,” officials in the Wyoming State Department of Education decided to tackle this question head on by convening a panel of community leaders in June 2006 to recommend cutoff scores, known as cut-scores, for classifying student performance on the state’s new accountability tests.

“It’s a very, very important decision area,” notes Popham, professor emeritus at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and chair of Wyoming’s Technical Assistance Committee (TAC), made up of five assessment experts. “It is difficult to imagine a set of recommendations apt to have more impact on Wyoming education.”

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