Board Talks Will Focus on a New Blueprint

Susan Troller
The Capital Times
September 25, 2007

Football coach Barry Switzer’s famous quote, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple,” could easily apply to schools and school districts that take credit for students who enter school with every advantage and continue as high achievers all along.
But how do you fairly judge the job that teachers, schools and districts with many children who have significant obstacles — obstacles like poverty, low parental expectations, illness and disability or lack of English proficiency — are doing? Likewise, how do you make certain that your top students are adding growth every year as they go through school, rather than just coasting toward some average or proficient standard?

Those kinds of complex questions are at the heart of a discussion that the Madison School Board will be having over the next several months.
At its Performance and Achievement Committee meeting Monday night, the Madison district began taking its first steps toward developing what’s called a value-added assessment system for measuring the growth of its students year by year.
It would add demographic data about every student as it charts his or her performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, which is administered every fall in grades 3 through 8, and in 10th grade.
The WKCE test is the basis for determining how well public schools in Wisconsin are meeting the requirements of the federal government’s No Child Left Behind legislation.
This kind of system is being used in other larger districts, including Milwaukee, committee chair Lawrie Kobza said.
If the blueprint for the assessment system — based on the actual academic growth of students in 3rd through 8th grades in reading and math — is implemented, it would supplement the way student achievement in Madison is measured by factoring in a number of external factors including income, mobility, parent education levels, the number of adults in the household, ethnicity, English language proficiency, gender and special education status.
The resulting data would allow the board, the administration, the staff and the community to see what kind of teaching methods are working, or not working, for individual students, and for groups of students.
“We’re looking at a much finer analysis of how our children are performing,” Rainwater said at Monday night’s meeting.
In addition, he said, the value-added assessment system would provide a much more nuanced look at how each school is performing, recognizing both the potential assets and obstacles students are bringing to their academic experience.
“I think the growth model is absolutely the right path to follow, and a critical way to measure our progress,” Kobza said in an interview today.
“Regardless of where you start in school, you’re expected to make progress. If you’re at the high end, it’s not good enough to coast,” she said. And she added that kids who start lower are also expected to make significant, regular improvement.
The use of the growth-based model would be done in conjunction with a refinement of the Madison district’s goals, which include all students reading at or above grade level in 3rd grade and all students completing algebra by the end of 9th grade and geometry by the end of 10th grade.
“I think this change is critical. Our existing goals have served us very well for a number of years but they are static measurements,” Kobza explained. “This would really allow us to look at goals that are applicable each year.
“We’ll probably bring our own refinements to how we’d implement this, but overall it’s not a brand new thing we’re creating,” she added.