Feb 12, 2019

The Power of the Curve

Students often do well on tests given in their classrooms all year long, and then achieve disappointing results on national tests such as AP®, SAT®, ACT®, SBAC, and PARCC.

While there are many reasons for these results, one that is often overlooked is that all of those national tests are “curved”, while many classroom teachers think that it would be cheating to curve tests, as it would be too easy on their students.

Because many teachers don’t use a grading curve in their classrooms, however, they are forced to ask questions that are easier for students than those they will see on national exams, as well as giving class credit for work that doesn’t show evidence of learning such as homework, projects, etc.  Then, those students walk into a national exam and face questions and problems that are far more rigorous than they saw all year long. Getting lots of low-level questions right on the classroom tests does little to prepare them for these more rigorous questions they now face.

So, students who earned passing grades all year, fail the national exam which is supposed to correlate to that course.

An effective answer to this problem is simple: teachers can correlate the rigor of their classroom tests to that of the national exams and also correlate the way those tests are graded on a curve.  That’s why NJCTL created an Excel program for both AP, and other middle and high school courses which replicates the shape of the AP grading curve for teachers’ own tests. NJCTL also provides the added capability to reduce the extent of the curve so that unit tests are curved in the same manner, but to a lower extent.  This program and directions to implement it can be found here.