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How passing scores are determined

The Pass Point
|The test pass point is the minimum score required to pass a certification test. The pass point is also known as a cut score or passing score. Pass points for CWEA certification tests vary with each test, but usually they fall between 60% and 80% of all test items answered correctly. The pass point for each vocation and grade level is set independently. Also, each version, or form, of a test will have its own pass point. Different versions are given each time the certification test is administered.

How Pass Points Are Set
A modified Angoff Method is used to determine the pass point for each version of each test. The modified Angoff Method uses expert judgments to determine the difficulty level of the test. The easier the test, the higher the pass point. Likewise, the more difficult the test the lower the pass point.

The following is a basic outline of the modified Angoff Method (some details have been omitted):

  1. A group of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) independently rate each test question within a given test. The ratings are defined as the probability, or likelihood, that an acceptably (minimally) competent person with the requisite education and experience will answer the question correctly. An acceptably (minimally) competent person is defined as someone who adequately performs all job functions safely and requires no further training to do so.

  2. The SMEs review each test question as group. A consensus is reached for the rating of each test question. During this time the SMEs review comments submitted in writing by test-takers. Any test question that is judged to be ambiguous, has more than one correct answer, or has no correct answers is eliminated from the scoring process for that test. These test questions are then revised for future use, re-classified, or deleted form the test item bank.

  3. After the data are refined, the final step is to calculate the mean, or average, of all the test question ratings. This becomes the overall pass point estimation.

Why Use Modified Angoff?
Each version of a given certification test pulls questions from a test item bank. Each of these questions vary in difficulty. Because a different mix of questions is used in each test the overall difficulty level is not fixed. Thus, it is important to make sure that the varying difficulty level is reflected in the pass point of each test to ensure that test results are reliable. Test reliability is concerned with the reproducibility of results for each version of a given test. In other words, for a test to be reliable it must yield the same result (pass or fail) for the same individual under very similar circumstances. For example, imagine you take a certain grade level test and pass it. Immediately after completing this test you take the same grade level test, but a different version. If the test is reliable you will achieve the same result: pass. If you don’t, it is likely that the test is not a reliable measure of acceptable (minimal) competency.

By taking into consideration the difficulty level of the test, the modified Angoff Method significantly increases the reliability of the tests. Also, since each test is adjusted for difficulty level, each test version has the same standard for passing. Thus, test-takers are treated equitably and fairly even if they take different versions of the test.

There are other methods for setting pass points. However, for the type of tests administered by CWEA, the modified Angoff Method is the best.

Why Not Use 70% As The Pass Point?
Pass points are a critical component of any certification test. It is the standard at which those who have demonstrated minimal acceptable competence are separated from those who have not. Simply writing a test then setting the pass point at 70%, without any supporting rationale, leaves a lot of questions open such as: how do you know if a 70% pass point will result in all competent individuals passing and no one else passing?; why was 70% chosen?; how can a variety of different tests, that test different subjects at different grade levels, all have the same pass point?; and how do you know that the 70% pass point will result in reliable estimates of competence? If all of these questions can be answered adequately then 70% is an acceptable pass point. Simply answering that 70% is the traditional pass point is not acceptable. If a 70% pass point is determined under the modified Angoff Method then it can be stated that 70% is an acceptable pass point.

Certification Program Standards
Certification programs affect employment decisions and are therefore subject to certain standards set forth by federal law. To comply with these federal regulations, pass points must be set with consideration given to Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education, 1985). CWEA utilizes methods of pass point determination that meet, or exceed, these standards.