Study praises Wisconsin for raising the bar on state exams; RIP WKCE Low Standards?

Erin Richards

Eight years ago, a study found Wisconsin had one of the lowest bars in the country for rating students proficient in reading and math on the state standardized test.

That means children here looked more academically accomplished than they probably really were — something the state aimed to remedy by raising the scores needed for students to attain rankings of advanced, proficient or basic on the annual state test.

That effort has been applauded by a new study noting that Wisconsin aggressively tightened its state test proficiency standards by 2013, ranking it second in the nation behind New York for the rigor of its expectations.

This spring, Wisconsin is administering a new state test tied to the Common Core State Standards — 17 other states are administering the same test — which will have a common bar for proficiency. Wisconsin raised the bar on its old state test largely to prepare everyone for the switch to the tougher new test.

That’s partly what led Harvard University researchers Paul E. Peterson and Matthew Ackerman to suggest that the Common Core standards are responsible for states raising the bar for proficiency on their individual state tests between 2011 and 2013.

Wisconsin adopted the standards in 2010, and joined one of two consortia of other states committed to administering tougher, common tests tied to the new grade-level expectations in English and math.

The study found Wisconsin’s new bar for proficiency to be as strong or stronger than the bar used by a respected national standardized exam.

More: States Raise Proficiency Standards:

Which states changed the most? For the first time since this survey of state standards has been undertaken, no fewer than nine states receive a grade of “A,” indicating they have set a proficiency bar that is roughly comparable to that set by NAEP. Joining Massachusetts and Tennessee, the only two states given that top grade in 2011, are Kentucky, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin. Five of these states (Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) have even set some standards that exceed those of NAEP. Six states (Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wisconsin, and Michigan) should be commended for improving by more than two letter grades between 2011 and 2013. All of these states have adopted CCSS. Meanwhile, only New Hampshire’s standards have dropped by a full letter grade.

CCSS may be driving these changes. One indication that this may be the case is that the six states that are not implementing CCSS for reading or math all continue to set low proficiency standards. Their grades: Virginia, C+; Nebraska, C; Indiana, C-; Texas, C-; Alaska, D+; and Oklahoma, D.

Let’s hope that this move to more rigor continues.

Background: Wisconsin’s low bar WKCE expedition.