What if you suddenly found out that half of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin, all kids you thought were highly rated readers, really didn’t merit being called proficient? That instead of four out of five being pretty decent in math, it was really two out of five?
You better start thinking how you’d react because it’s likely that is what’s coming right at us. That’s how dramatic a proposal last week by the state Department of Public Instruction is.
As parents, teachers, school leaders, politicians, community leaders and taxpayers, will we be motivated to do better? Will we see the need for change? Will we rise to the occasion? Or will we settle for being discouraged and basically locked into what we’ve come to expect?
Here’s what’s going on: With Congress failing to pass a revision, originally due in 2007, of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education has begun issuing waivers from the enforcement program of the increasingly dysfunctional law. Wisconsin wants a waiver – it’s one of the things people such as Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic-oriented Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers agree on. So a task force developed a proposal. People have until Feb. 3 to react to the proposal and the application is to be submitted Feb. 21.
The plan will change a lot of important dynamics of what students and schools in Wisconsin are expected to accomplish. It calls for publicly rating all schools on a 1 to 100 point scale, with student outcomes as a key factor. Schools that score low will face orders to improve and, possibly, closing. And that goes for every school with students whose education is paid for with public dollars – in other words, private schools in the voucher programs for Milwaukee and Racine kids are included.
Overall, the waiver plan means we are at the point where Wisconsin gets serious about raising expectations for student achievement. Wisconsin is regarded as having one of the lowest bars in the U.S. for rating a student as proficient. No more, the proposal says.
Eighth-grade reading: Using the WKCE measuring stick, 86% of students were rated as “advanced” or “proficient.” Using the NAEP measuring stick, it was 35% – a 51-point difference. At least as vivid: Using the WKCE measure, 47% of eighth-graders were “advanced,” the top bracket. Using the NAEP measure, it was 3%. Three percent! In other words, only a handful of kids statewide would be labeled advanced under the new system, not the nearly half we’re used to.
Fourth-grade reading: On the WKCE scale, 82% were proficient or advanced. On the NAEP scale, it was 33%.
Eighth-grade math: WKCE, 78% proficient. NAEP: 41%.
Fourth-grade math: WKCE: 79% proficient. NAEP: 47%.
A substantial improvement in academic standards is warranted and possibly wonderful, assuming it happens and avoids being watered down. The rightly criticized WKCE was an expensive missed opportunity.