Why 14 Wisconsin high schools take international standardized test

Alan Borsuk:

Patricia Deklotz, superintendent of the Kettle Moraine School District, said her district, west of Milwaukee, is generally high performing. But, Deklotz asked, if they talk a lot about getting students ready for the global economy, are they really doing it? PISA is a way to find out.

“It raises the bar from comparing ourselves to schools in Wisconsin,” she said. “This is something that can benchmark us against the world.” Deklotz said she wants the school staff to be able to use the results to analyze how improve their overall practices.

One appeal for taking part in the PISA experiment: The 14 Wisconsin schools didn’t have to pay out of their own pockets.

The Kern Family Foundation, based in Waukesha County, is one of the leading supporters of efforts aimed at improving the global competitiveness of American schoolchildren. Kern convened the invitation-only conference in Milwaukee. And as part of its support of the effort, it is picking up the tab — $8,000 per school — for the 14 schools.

“The Kern Family Foundation’s role is to support and convene organizations focused on improving the rising generation’s skills in math, science, engineering and technology to prepare them to compete in the global marketplace,” Ryan Olson, education team leader at the foundation, said in a statement.

A second somewhat-local connection to the PISA initiative: Shorewood native Jonathan Schnur has been involved in several big ideas in education. Some credit him with sparking the Race to the Top multibillion-dollar competitive education grant program of the Obama Administration. Schnur now leads an organization called America Achieves, which is spearheading the PISA effort.

Until now, Schnur said in an interview, there hasn’t been a way for schools to compare themselves to the rest of the world. Participating in PISA is a way to benefit from what’s being done in the best schools in the world.

Each participating school will get a 150-page report slicing and dicing its PISA results. That includes analysis of not only skills but also what students said in answering questions about how their schools work. Do kids listen to teachers? Do classes get down to business promptly at the start of a period? Do students have good relationships with teachers?

Schleicher told the Milwaukee meeting that PISA asked students why they think some kids don’t do well in math. American students were likely to point to lack of talent as the answer. In higher-scoring countries, students were more likely to say the student hadn’t worked hard enough. “That tells you a lot about the underlying education,” he said.

Related wisconsin2.org. Much more on PISA and Wisconsin’s oft criticized WKCE, here