It’s a no win situation because if the state doesn’t adjust the cut score to reflect differences in difficulty in the questions used then they get attacked for trying to make the schools look bad (to privatize then, natch). If they do adjust the scores then they get attacked for goosing the scores for political reasons. And what’s really fun about education today is that it’s the exact same people who will attack you either way.
The bigger problem, it seems to me, is the pervasive lack of transparency around assessments and the process that derives cut scores in the first place (pdf). States could save themselves a lot of headaches if they were more upfront about all this in the first place and just explained clearly how decisions were made and their effect.
Less noticed, unfortunately, is an interesting NY pilot using Race to the Top dollars to help schools move away from traditional tests in some non-core subjects. “Tests” get lumped together but the majority of assessments a student sees over the course of the year are driven by state, district, or school policies. Federal requirements are just reading and math, grades 3-8 (and in high school). Federal policy explicitly does not require stakes to be attached to those tests for students. Lost in all the back and forth about testing is that issue and steps that could be taken to clear away a lot of the underbrush.