# Can We Correlate WKCE Scores to Anything?

sp-eye:

It’s time somebody looked (at least in the public eye) at some of the demographics and policy/practices and how they may or may not relate to achievement (in terms of WKCE scores).
First a very brief less in the art of correlation. We can take any two pieces of information and mathematically determine whether or not there is a pattern…a correlation. The mathematical tool is the correlation coefficient. It provides a number ranging from -1 (perfect inverse correlation, as X increases, Y decreases) to +1 (perfect correlation, as X increases/decreases, so does Y). Then, all we need to do is apply some statistics based on the size of our data set to determine whether or not the correlation is significant (statistically speaking). For this exercise we looked at the 95% level of confidence, which means that there would be 5% or less chance that the correlation observed resulted from chance alone.

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.

# Wisconsin’s annual school test (WKCE) still gets lots of attention, but it seems less useful each year

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin (and just about every other state) is involved in developing new state tests. That work is one of the requirements of getting a waiver and, if a bill ever emerges form Congress, it will almost certainly continue to require every state to do testing.
But the new tests aren’t scheduled to be in place for three years – in the fall of 2014. So this fall and for at least the next two, Wisconsin’s school children and schools will go through the elaborate process of taking a test that still gets lots of attention but seems to be less useful each year it lives on.

The oft-criticized WKCE often provides grist for “successes”. Sometimes, rarely, the truth about its low standards is quietly mentioned.
I remember a conversation with a well educated Madison parent earlier this year. “My child is doing well, the WKCE reports him scoring in the 95th percentile in math”……
www.wisconsin2.org is worth a visit.

# Milwaukee Voucher School WKCE Headlines: “Students in Milwaukee voucher program didn’t perform better in state tests”, “Test results show choice schools perform worse than public schools”, “Choice schools not outperforming MPS”; Spend 50% Less Per Student

Erin Richards and Amy Hetzner

Latest tests show voucher scores about same or worse in math and reading.
Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math and reading on the latest statewide test, according to results released Tuesday that provided the first apples-to-apples achievement comparison between public and individual voucher schools.
The scores released by the state Department of Public Instruction cast a shadow on the overall quality of the 21-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which was intended to improve results for poor city children in failing public schools by allowing them to attend higher-performing private schools with publicly funded vouchers. The scores also raise concerns about Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to roll back the mandate that voucher schools participate in the current state test.
Voucher-school advocates counter that legislation that required administration of the state test should have been applied only once the new version of the test that’s in the works was rolled out. They also say that the latest test scores are an incomplete measure of voucher-school performance because they don’t show the progress those schools are making with a difficult population of students over time.
Statewide, results from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam show that scores didn’t vary much from last year. The percentage of students who scored proficient or better was higher in reading, science and social studies but lower in mathematics and language arts from the year before.

Susan Troller:

Great. Now Milwaukee has TWO failing taxpayer-financed school systems when it comes to educating low income kids (and that’s 89 per cent of the total population of Milwaukee Public Schools).
Statewide test results released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction include for the first time performance data from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which involves about 110 schools serving around 10,000 students. There’s a total population of around 80,000 students in Milwaukee’s school district.
The numbers for the voucher schools don’t look good. But the numbers for the conventional public schools in Milwaukee are very poor, as well.
In a bit of good news, around the rest of the state student test scores in every demographic group have improved over the last six years, and the achievment gap is narrowing.
But the picture in Milwaukee remains bleak.

Matthew DeFour:

The test results show the percentage of students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program who scored proficient or advanced was 34.4 percent for math and 55.2 percent for reading.
Among Milwaukee Public Schools students, it was 47.8 percent in math and 59 percent in reading. Among Milwaukee Public Schools students coming from families making 185 percent of the federal poverty level — a slightly better comparison because voucher students come from families making no more than 175 percent — it was 43.9 percent in math and 55.3 percent in reading.
Statewide, the figures were 77.2 percent in math and 83 percent in reading. Among all low-income students in the state, it was 63.2 percent in math and 71.7 percent in reading.
Democrats said the results are evidence that the voucher program is not working. Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, the top Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said voucher students, parents and taxpayers are being “bamboozled.”
“The fact that we’ve spent well over \$1 billion on a failed experiment leads me to believe we have no business spending \$22 million to expand it with these kinds of results,” Pope-Roberts said. “It’s irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and a disservice to Milwaukee students.”
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who is developing a proposal to expand the voucher program to other cities, took a more optimistic view of the results.
“Obviously opponents see the glass half-empty,” Vos said. “I see the glass half-full. Children in the school choice program do the same as the children in public school but at half the cost.”

Only DeFour’s article noted that voucher schools spend roughly half the amount per student compared to traditional public schools. Per student spending was discussed extensively during last evening’s planning grant approval (The vote was 6-1 with Marj Passman voting No while Maya Cole, James Howard, Ed Hughes, Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss and Arlene Silveira voted yes) for the Urban League’s proposed Charter IB School: The Madison Preparatory Academy.
The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor. Wisconsin DPI WKCE data.
Yin and Yang: Jay Bullock and Christian D’Andrea.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

# Wisconsin Likely to Adopt “Common Core” K-12 Standards, Drop Oft-Criticized WKCE

Wisconsin students can count on one hand the number of times they’ll still have to take the math section — or any section — of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the annual weeklong test whose results for 2009-10 were scheduled to be released Wednesday.
That’s because the WKCE is expected to give way in a few years to tests based on new national academic standards proposed last month that could become final this spring.
The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and all 50 U.S. states except Alaska and Texas in the fall signed on to the development of the Common Core State Standards for math and English, which spell out what the nation’s public schoolchildren should be taught from kindergarten through high school.
When the final standards are unveiled, probably in late May, Wisconsin likely will adopt them, said Sue Grady, executive assistant to the state school superintendent.

# Wisconsin Assessment Recommendations (To Replace the WKCE)

Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance, via a kind reader’s email [View the 146K PDF]

On August 27, 2009, State Superintendent Tony Evers stated that the State of Wisconsin would eliminate the current WKCE to move to a Balanced System of Assessment. In his statement, the State Superintendent said the following:

New assessments at the elementary and middle school level will likely be computer- based with multiple opportunities to benchmark student progress during the school year. This type of assessment tool allows for immediate and detailed information about student understanding and facilitates the teachers’ ability to re-teach or accelerate classroom instruction. At the high school level, the WKCE will be replaced by assessments that provide more information on college and workforce readiness.

By March 2010, the US Department of Education intends to announce a \$350 million grant competition that would support one or more applications from a consortia of states working to develop high quality state assessments. The WI DPI is currently in conversation with other states regarding forming consortia to apply for this federal funding.
In September, 2009, the School Administrators Alliance formed a Project Team to make recommendations regarding the future of state assessment in Wisconsin. The Project Team has met and outlined recommendations what school and district administrators believe can transform Wisconsin’s state assessment system into a powerful tool to support student learning.
Criteria Underlying the Recommendations:

• Wisconsin’s new assessment system must be one that has the following characteristics:
• Benchmarked to skills and knowledge for college and career readiness • Measures student achievement and growth of all students
• Relevant to students, parents, teachers and external stakeholders
• Provides timely feedback that adds value to the learning process • Efficient to administer
• Aligned with and supportive of each school district’s teaching and learning
• Advances the State’s vision of a balanced assessment system

Wisconsin’s Assessment test: The WKCE has been oft criticized for its lack of rigor.
The WKCE serves as the foundation for the Madison School District’s “Value Added Assessment” initiative, via the UW-Madison School of Education.

# The Death of WKCE? Task Force to Develop “Comprehensive Assessment System for Wisconsin”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [150K PDF], via a kind reader’s email:

Wisconsin needs a comprehensive assessment system that provides educators and parents with timely and relevant information that helps them make instructional decisions to improve student achievement,” said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster in announcing members of a statewide Next Generation Assessment Task Force.
Representatives from business, commerce, and education will make recommendations to the state superintendent on the components of an assessment system that are essential to increase student achievement. Task force members will review the history of assessment in Wisconsin and learn about the value, limitations, and costs of a range of assessment approaches. They will hear presentations on a number of other states’ assessment systems. Those systems may include ACT as part of a comprehensive assessment system, diagnostic or benchmark assessments given throughout the year, or other assessment instruments and test administration methods. The group’s first meeting will be held October 8 in Madison.

A few notes:

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# Dane County, WI Schools Consider MAP Assessement Tests After Frustration with State WKCE ExamsWaunakee Urges that the State Dump the WKCE

From Wisconsin Heights on the west to Marshall on the east, 10 Dane County school districts and the private Eagle School in Fitchburg are among more than 170 Wisconsin public and private school systems purchasing tests from Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group based in the state of Oregon.
The aim of those tests, known as Measures of Academic Progress, and others purchased from other vendors, is to give educators, students and parents more information about students ‘ strengths and weaknesses. Officials at these districts say the cost, about \$12 per student per year for MAP tests, is a good investment.
The tests ‘ popularity also reflects widespread frustration over the state ‘s \$10 million testing program, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
Critics say that WKCE, which is used to hold schools accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind law, fails to provide adequate data to help improve the teaching methods and curriculum used in the classrooms.
They complain that because the tests are administered just once a year, and it takes nearly six months to receive the results, the information arrives in May — too late to be of use to teachers during the school year.
The testing controversy is “a healthy debate, ” said Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, whose agency contends that there ‘s room for both WKCE and MAP.
….
“It ‘s a test that we feel is much more relevant to assisting students and helping them with their skills development, ” said Mike Hensgen, director of curriculum and instruction for the Waunakee School District, who acknowledges he ‘s a radical in his dislike of WKCE.
“To me, the WKCE is not rigorous enough. When a kid sees he ‘s proficient, ‘ he thinks he ‘s fine. ”
Hensgen contends that the WKCE, which is based on the state ‘s academic content for each grade level, does a poor job of depicting what elite students, and students performing at the bottom level, really know.
The Waunakee School Board, in a letter being distributed this month, is urging state legislators and education officials to find ways to dump WKCE in favor of MAP and tests from ACT and other vendors.

# Problem’s Swirl Around Wisconsin’s next student test….

Erin Richards: Costs to administer the new test have gone millions of dollars over budget. And administrators learned last week that a key technological feature of the new test — its ability to adapt to students’ individual ability levels by offering harder or easier questions as they take the exam — won’t be ready this … Continue reading Problem’s Swirl Around Wisconsin’s next student test….

# Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents

WisPolitics Olsen said he sees the Common Core standards as an improvement over Wisconsin’s old standards and points to support from the conservative Fordham Foundation and business leaders like Bill Gates, who argue the standards are needed to remain competitive in a global economy. He wants to avoid a situation similar to Indiana, which dropped … Continue reading Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents

# This Year’s SAT Scores Are Out, and They’re Grim

Pat Schneider:

isconsin State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Evers used the platform of his annual State of Education speech Thursday to respond to skeptics of Common Core standards, whose ranks Republican Gov. Scott Walker joined just a few days earlier.
“We cannot go back to a time when our standards were a mile wide and an inch deep, leaving too many kids ill prepared for the demands of college and a career. We cannot pull the rug out from under thousands of kids, parents and educators who have spent the past three years working to reach these new, higher expectations that we have set for them. To do so would have deep and far reaching consequences for our kids, and for our state,” Evers said in remarks at the State Capitol that also touched on accountability for voucher schools. “We must put our kids above our politics. And we owe it to them to stay the course.”
Evers signed on to national Common Core curriculum standards for reading and math in 2010, making Wisconsin one of the first states to adopt them. School districts across the state, including Madison Metropolitan School District, are in the process of implementing them. Madison schools Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has called Common Core standards “pretty wonderful,” and says they are about critical thinking and applying skills to practical tasks.
Walker had been pretty low-key about Common Core until a few days ago, when he issued a statement calling for separate, more rigorous state standards. Republican leaders of both houses of the state Legislature quickly announced special committees to weigh the Common Core standards, and public hearings on not-yet-adopted science and social studies standards will be held, according to one report.

# Do Americans Know How Well Their State’s Schools Perform?

Martin West:

Among the most common rationales offered for the Common Core State Standards project is to eliminate differences in the definition of student proficiency in core academic subjects across states. As is well known, the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) required states to test students annually in grades 3-8 (and once in high school), to report the share of students in each school performing at a proficient level in math and reading, and to intervene in schools not on track to achieve universal student proficiency by 2014. Yet it permitted states to define proficiency as they saw fit, producing wide variation in the expectations for student performance from one state to the next. While a few states, including several that had set performance standards prior to NCLB’s enactment, have maintained relatively demanding definitions of proficiency, most have been more lenient.
The differences in expectations for students across states are striking. In 2011, for example, Alabama reported that 77 percent of its 8th grade students were proficient in math, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests administered that same year indicated that just 20 percent of Alabama’s 8th graders were proficient against NAEP standards. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, roughly the same share of 8th graders achieved proficiency on the state test (52 percent) as did so on the NAEP (51 percent). In other words, Alabama deemed 25 percent more of its students proficient than did Massachusetts despite the fact that its students performed at markedly lower levels when evaluated against a common standard. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has gone so far as to accuse states like Alabama of “lying to children and parents” by setting low expectations for student performance.

Wisconsin’s oft-criticized WKCE is similar to Alabama’s proficiency approach, rather than Massachusetts. Yet, Alabama has seen fit to compare their students to the world, something Wisconsin has resisted.

Related: www.wisconsin2.org.

# Wisconsin education chief: Governor’s new report cards not ‘ready for prime time’

Matthew DeFour:

The state’s top education official warned the Legislature’s budget committee Thursday that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to tie funding and voucher expansion to new state report cards could undermine bipartisan reform efforts already underway.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said the new report cards “aren’t ready for prime time” and will look “a lot different eight years from now.”
Evers agreed with Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, a member of the Joint Finance Committee and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, that the report cards should be used “as a flashlight and not a hammer.”

“If we use them as a hammer it’s going to make all the other transformative efforts we’re doing more difficult
,” Evers said, referring to new curriculum, testing and teacher evaluation systems that were developed by a bipartisan coalition of teachers, administrators, school boards and political leaders in recent years.
“Teachers will back off,” he said.

2008: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”. Parents, students and taxpayers might wonder what precisely the DPI has been doing since 2008? The WKCE has been long criticized for its lack of rigor.
Related: Matthew DeFour’s tweets from Mr. Evers recent budget appearance.

# Scott Walker Tilts K-12 Education Toward the Needs of Business

Rebecca Kemble:

Under Scott Walker’s reign in Wisconsin, multinational corporations are given undue influence over public policy. Nowhere is this more evident than in public education. Some of the largest corporations in the world – GE, Caterpillar, Koch Industries – have privileged seats at Walker’s policy table, but they don’t necessarily show up themselves. Instead, they activate a whole network of local actors to do their bidding.
In his seminal work, Propaganda (1928), the “Father of Public Relations” Edward Louis Bernays wrote:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

Putting ideology aside, how have Wisconsin’s K-12 policies over the past few decades improved student learning, at all? www.wisconsin2.org

Interim Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore (175K PDF):

The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) is a computer adaptive series of assessments from the North West Evaluation Association (NWEA). There are tests in reading, language usage and math.
When taking a MAP test, the difficulty of each question is based on how well a student answers all the previous questions. As the student answers correctly, questions become more difficult. If the student answers incorrectly, the questions become easier. In an optimal test, a student answers approximately half the items correctly and half incorrectly. The final score is an estimate of the student’s achievement level. Each test takes approximately 50 minutes to complete.
MMSD has chosen to administer MAP for the following reasons:

• It helps ensure technical infrastructure to support implementation of Smarter Balanced Assessment.
• Rapid turn-around of classroom, school and district level data.
• Nationally normed results give a more accurate picture of MMSD’s standing.
• MAP measures student achievement growth in content area and within strands in a content area.
• Beginning 2012-13, MAP will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards
• MAP is not high stakes. It is not reported to the state for accountability purposes, but rather for district and school improvement.

In 2011-12, MAP was administered for Grades 3 through 7. In 2012-13, it will be expanded to include Grade 8. The default is to provide the test to all students, but MMSD has the ability to use judgment for students with disabilities. So, not all special education students will take MAP. Also, MAP is not for ELL levels 1 or 2.

I’m glad the Madison Schools published this information, and that they are implementing a much more rigorous assessment than the oft-criticized WKCE. I look forward to seeing the District’s report on the EXPLORE assessment, as well.
Nearby Monona Grove has used the MAP assessment for a number of years. It would be interesting to see how the Districts compare.

Matthew DeFour and TJ Mertz comment.

# Wisconsin’s Achievement Stagnation: 1992 – 2011

“Yet when compared to gains made by students in other countries, progress within the United States is middling, not stellar (see Figure 1). While 24 countries trail the U.S. rate of improvement, another 24 countries appear to be improving at a faster rate. Nor is U.S. progress sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world.”
“Meanwhile, students in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana were among those making the fewest average gains between 1992 and 2011. Once again, the larger political climate may have affected the progress on the ground. Unlike in the South, the reform movement has made little headway within midwestern states, at least until very recently. Many of the midwestern states had proud education histories symbolized by internationally acclaimed land-grant universities, which have become the pride of East Lansing, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Lafayette, Indiana. Satisfaction with past accomplishments may have dampened interest in the school reform agenda sweeping through southern, border, and some western states.”
Underlying study: “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance

Related:

• Student scores slip with new proficiency benchmarks by Erin Richards

The results: Only 35.8% of Wisconsin’s WKCE test-takers in third through eighth and 10th grade in fall 2011 scored proficient or better in reading, and just 48.1% scored proficient or better in math.
Compare that with March, when the state released 2011 WKCE results that showed 78% and 82% of students scored proficient or better in math and reading.
Under the new benchmarks, just 41.9% of white students scored proficient or advanced in reading, and 55.2% met that mark in math on the latest state test. Previously, more than 87% of white students were considered proficient or better in reading, and 84.3% were considered to have scored proficient or better in math in 2011.
As for the state’s black students – many of whom attend Milwaukee Public Schools – 13.4% are considered proficient or advanced in reading, down from 58.7% using the old grading scale.
Rep. Steve Kestell, a Republican from Elkhart Lake who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee, called the revised picture of student performance a “necessary and long-delayed wake-up call for Wisconsin.”
“We’ve been trying to tell folks for some time that we’ve been looking at things through rose-colored glasses in Wisconsin,” he added. “It was a hard thing to communicate, and it was largely ignored. This is a new awakening.”
State Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said: “We’ve known for years that our proficiency-cut scores are way below where they should be, and really, this shows that we have got to do a better job.”
Under the past decade of No Child Left Behind, Wisconsin had been criticized for having a more lenient bar for proficiency than other states.

• Less than half of state’s students measure proficient under new national standards by Matthew DeFour:

Still, the new results should be a “smack in the face” for Wisconsin, said Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison.
“It’s going to be a wake-up call,” Gamoran said. “It’s a more honest reckoning of where Wisconsin students stand relative to other students across the nation and relative to the goals we want for all of our students.”
The old results were based on whether students were meeting Wisconsin’s definition of being at grade-level, whereas the new results reflect more rigorous standards of what it means to be prepared for college or a career used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card.
About 3,000 4th and 8th graders in Wisconsin take the NAEP every other year. In 2011, 32 percent of Wisconsin 4th graders scored proficient on NAEP’s reading test and 39 percent scored proficient on the math test.
The data released Tuesday marks the first time DPI has converted results of the state test, which more than 430,000 students in grades 3-8 and 10 take in the fall, to the NAEP benchmarks.
DPI won’t release recalculated results for individual schools and districts until the fall, when it also plans to release individual school report cards with ratings on a scale of 0 to 100.
Kim Henderson, president of the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association, said parents pay closer attention to state test scores than NAEP scores, so the results could “bring up a lot of good questioning.”

• State sets new, tougher standards for student tests by the Associated Press:

To get the waiver, Wisconsin had to develop its own accountability system in addition to teacher and principal evaluations, among other things.
The scores will be included on new school report cards to be released in the fall. How well individual students in grades 3-8 and 10 do on reading and math tests they take in November will be released next spring.
The new school report cards were developed in conjunction with Gov. Scott Walker, legislative leaders and others over the past year. They will include a numerical rating for individual schools from 0-100 based on student achievement, growth, graduation rates and closing of achievement gaps between different groups of students. The scores will generate an overall total that will place each school into one of five categories ranging from “Fails to Meet Expectations” to “Significantly Exceeds Expectations.”
“This new system will empower parents, allowing them to make education related decisions based on reliable and uniform data,” Walker said in a statement.
Sample report cards, without actual school data, are posted online to solicit feedback through Aug. 12.

• Numerous notes and links on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.
• wisconsin2.org

# Madison School District Strategic Plan Update

I recently attended the third annual update to the 2009 Madison School District Strategic Plan. You can follow the process via these notes and links.
I thought it might be useful to share a few observations on our local public schools during this process:

• General public interest in the schools continues to be the exception, rather than the norm.
• I sense that the District is more open to discussing substantive issues such as reading, math and overall achievement during the past few years. However, it does not appear to have translated into the required tough decision making regarding non-performing programs and curriculum.
• MTI President Kerry Motoviloff recent statement that the District administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”.
• Full teacher Infinite Campus use remains a goal, despite spending millions of dollars, money which could have gone elsewhere given the limited implementation. Unfortunately, this is a huge missed opportunity. Complete course syllabus, assignment and gradebook information would be a powerful tool when evaluating achievement issues.
• The implementation of “standards based report cards” further derailed the Infinite Campus spending/implementation. This is an example of spending money (and time – consider the opportunity cost) on programs that are actually in conflict.
• The District continues to use the oft criticized and very low benchmark WKCE as their measure. This, despite starting to use the MAP exam this year. Nearby Monona Grove has been using MAP for some time.
• Three Madison School Board members attended: Mary Burke, James Howard and Ed Hughes.
• UW-Madison school of Education dean Julie Underwood attended and asked, to my astonishment, (paraphrased) how the District’s various diversity programs were benefiting kids (and achievement)?

The only effective way forward, in my view, is to simplify the District’s core mission to reading, english and math. This means eliminating programs and focusing on the essentials. That will be a difficult change for the organization, but I don’t see how adding programs to the current pile benefits anyone. It will cost more and do less.
Less than 24 hours after I attended the MMSD’s Strategic Plan update, I, through a variety of circumstances, visited one of Milwaukee’s highest performing private/voucher schools, a school with more than 90% low income students. The petri dish that is Milwaukee will produce a far more robust and effective set of schools over the next few decades than the present monolithic approach favored here. More about that visit, soon.

# Reflections and questions on Wisconsin school test results

So what was new in all the data released last week summarizing results of the standardized tests, known as the WKCEs, that were taken last fall by more than 400,000 students from Kenosha to Superior?
Not much.
Some things a little better, most things the same, the state of meeting our educational needs pretty much unchanged.
But for every answer like that, I have a dozen questions (and lots of sub-questions).
Here they are:
1. Do we have the patience to pursue solid, significant improvement in how our students are doing?
The highflying schools I know of all took years to reach the heights.
Are we willing to do the steady, thoughtful work of building quality and resist the rapidly revolving carousel of education fads?
2. Do we have the impatience to pursue solid, significant improvement in how our students are doing?
At the same time we’ve got to be steady, we’ve got to be propelled by the urgency of improving.
Especially outside of Milwaukee, an awful lot of people are complacent about how Wisconsin’s kids are doing, and that complacency is often not well justified.

Related:

# Wisconsin Schools’ Evers criticizes education reform bill

Matthew DeFour:

An education reform bill circulating this week would require kindergarten screening exams and teacher evaluations based partly on test scores, but doesn’t update the state’s system for holding schools accountable for student performance.
The omission concerned State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who for the past year has worked with Gov. Scott Walker on three bipartisan task forces addressing literacy, teacher effectiveness and school accountability. The bill includes recommendations from the first two groups, but not the third.
Specifically, the bill doesn’t propose changes that would bring charter schools and private voucher schools under the new accountability system, or update language in state law related to No Child Left Behind.
Evers said the bill misses an opportunity to deliver action on promises made by Walker, legislators and education leaders, including advocates for charter and private voucher schools.

The DPI has much to answer for after the millions spent (and years wasted) on the oft-criticized WKCE.

# Raising Wisconsin’s Student Achievement Bar?

Alan Borsuk:

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.
Related: www.wisconsin2.org

# The Inevitability of the Use of Value-Added Measures in Teacher Evaluations

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

Value added” or “VA” refers to the use of statistical techniques to measure teachers’ impacts on their students’ standardized test scores, controlling for such student characteristics as prior years’ scores, gender, ethnicity, disability, and low-income status.
Reports on a massive new study that seem to affirm the use of the technique have recently been splashed across the media and chewed over in the blogosphere. Further from the limelight, developments in Wisconsin seem to ensure that in the coming years value-added analyses will play an increasingly important role in teacher evaluations across the state. Assuming the analyses are performed and applied sensibly, this is a positive development for student learning.
The Chetty Study
Since the first article touting its findings was published on the front page of the January 6 New York Times, a new research study by three economists assessing the value-added contributions of elementary school teachers and their long-term impact on their students’ lives – referred to as the Chetty article after the lead author – has created as much of a stir as could ever be expected for a dense academic study.

Much more on value added assessment, here.
It is important to note that the Madison School District’s value added assessment initiative is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.

# Madison School Board’s DIFI (District Identified for Improvement) Plan Discussion

1. Develop or Revise a District Improvement Plan
Address the fundamental teaching and learning needs of schools in the Local Education Agency (LEA), especially the academic problems o f low-achieving students.
MMSD has been identified by the State of Wisconsin as a District Identified for Improvement, or DIFI. We entered into this status based on District WKCE assessment scores. The data indicates that sub-groups of students-African American students, English Language Learner Students with Disabilities or Economically Disadvantaged -did not score high enough on the WKCE in one or more areas of reading, math or test participation to meet state criteria.
Under No Child Left Behind, 100% of students are expected to achieve proficient or advanced on the WKCE in four areas by 2014. Student performance goals have been raised every year on a regular schedule since 2001, making targets more and more difficult to reach each year. In addition to the curriculum changes being implemented, the following assessments are also new or being implemented during the 2011-12 school year (see Attachment 1):

Perhaps the No Child Left Behind requirement waivers that Education Secretary Duncan has discussed remove the urgency to address these issues. Of course, the benchmark used to measure student progress is the oft-criticized WKCE “Wisconsin, Mississippi Have “Easy State K-12 Exams” – NY Times”.
Related: Comparing Wisconsin & Texas: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.

# 7.28.2011 Wisconsin School Accountability Conference, with Video

Matthew DeFour:

An effort to develop a statewide school accountability system marks a turning point in Wisconsin, education experts said last week as a public effort to design the system got under way.
When the modern school accountability movement began in the 1990s, several states such as Massachusetts, Kentucky and Florida developed their own systems for measuring how well schools helped students learn. Wisconsin created a statewide test in 1993, but deferred to local districts on what it meant for schools.
“Some states have embraced (school accountability) more than others,” said UW-Madison education professor Doug Harris. “Wisconsin hasn’t.”
Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers, who otherwise have clashed on education issues, have agreed to change that. A task force they formed began collecting information at a symposium last week organized by Walker, Evers and the La Follette School of Public Affairs and will soon meet to begin designing the system.

When it comes to developing a system for accountability for Wisconsin’s schools, including ways to measure whether students are meeting the ultimate goal of being ready for a career or college, Betebenner says, “My advice to you is to go slow … and be deliberate.”
John Johnson, director of education information for DPI, was encouraged by the standing-room-only crowd and the attendance by a number of policymakers, including key legislators, at Thursday’s meeting.
“Maybe by wading into school reform rather than diving into the deep end of the pool with Race to the Top, we’ll actually be able to swim, instead of drowning,” he says.

Dan Gustafson, PhD 133K PDF, via a kind email from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

WRC recommends reading the following open letter from Madison neuropsychologist Dan Gustafson to the Governor’s Read to Lead task force. It reflects many of our concerns about the state of reading instruction in Wisconsin and the lack of an effective response from the Department of Public Instruction.
From Dan Gustafson, PhD
State Superintendent Evers, you appointed me to the Common Core Leadership Group. You charged that the Leadership Group would guide Wisconsin’s implementation of new reading instruction standards developed by the National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
It is my understanding that I was asked to join the group with the express purpose of bringing different voices to the table. If anything, my experience with the group illustrates how very far we need to go in achieving a transparent and reasoned discussion about the reading crisis in Wisconsin.
DPI Secretly Endorses Plan Created by Poor Performing CESA-7
I have grave concerns about DPI’s recent announcement that Wisconsin will follow CESA-7’s approach to implementing the Common Core reading standards. DPI is proposing this will be the state’s new model reading curriculum.
I can attest that there was absolutely no consensus reached in the Common Core group in support of CESA-7’s approach. In point of fact, at the 27th of June Common Core meeting, CESA-7 representative Claire Wick refused to respond to even general questions about her program.
I pointed out that our group, the Common Core Leadership Group, had a right to know about how CESA-7 intended to implement the Common Core Standards. She denied this was the case, citing a “non-disclosure agreement.”
The moderator of the discussion, DPI’s Emilie Amundson, concurred that Claire didn’t need to discuss the program further on the grounds that it was only a CESA-7 program. Our Common Core meeting occurred on the 27th of June. Only two weeks later, on July 14th, DPI released the following statement:
State Superintendent Evers formally adopted the Common Core State Standards in June 2010, making Wisconsin the first state in the country to adopt these rigorous, internationally benchmarked set of expectations for what students should know and are expected to do in English Language Arts and Mathematics. These standards guide both curriculum and assessment development at the state level. Significant work is now underway to determine how training will be advanced for these new standards, and DPI is currently working with CESA 7 to develop a model curriculum aligned to the new standards.
In glaring contrast to the deliberative process that went into creating the Common Core goals, Wisconsin is rushing to implement the goals without being willing to even show their program to their own panel of experts.
What Do We Know About Wisconsin/CESA-7’s Model Curriculum?
As an outsider to DPI, I was only able to locate one piece of data regarding CESA-7’s elementary school reading performance:
CESA-7 IS AMONG THE WORST PERFORMING DISTRICTS.
CESA-7 RANKED 10TH OF THE 12 WISCONSIN CESA’S.
What Claire did say about her philosophy and the CESA-7 program, before she decided to refuse further comment, was that she did not think significant changes were needed in reading instruction in Wisconsin, as “only three-percent” of children were struggling to read in the state. This is a strikingly low number, one that reflects an arbitrary cutoff for special education. Her view does not reflect the painful experience of the 67% of Wisconsin 4th graders who scored below proficient on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
As people in attendance at the meeting can attest, Claire also said that her approach was “not curriculum neutral” and she was taking a “strong stand” on how to teach reading. Again, when I pressed her on what these statements meant, she would only reference oblique whole language jargon, such as a belief in the principal of release from instruction. When I later asked her about finding a balance that included more phonics instruction, she said “too much emphasis” had been given to balanced literacy. After making her brief statements to the Common Core group, she said she had already disclosed too much, and refused to provide more details about the CESA-7 program.
Disregarding Research and Enormous Gains Made by other States, Wisconsin Continues to Stridently Support Whole Language
During the remainder of the day-long meeting on the 27th, I pressed the group to decide about a mechanism to achieve an expert consensus grounded in research. I suggested ways we could move beyond the clear differences that existed among us regarding how to assess and teach reading.
The end product of the meeting, however, was just a list of aspirational goals. We were told this would likely be the last meeting of the group. There was no substantive discussion about implementation of the goals–even though this had been Superintendent Evers’ primary mandate for the group.
I can better understand now why Emilie kept steering the discussion back to aspirational goals. The backroom deal had already been made with Claire and other leaders of the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA). It would have been inconvenient to tell me the truth.
WSRA continues to unapologetically champion a remarkably strident version of whole-language reading instruction. Please take a look at the advocacy section of their website. Their model of reading instruction has been abandoned through most the United States due to lack of research support. It is still alive and well in CESA-7, however.
Our State Motto is “Forward”
After years of failing to identify and recommend model curriculum by passing it off as an issue of local control, the DPI now purports to lead. Unfortunately, Superintendent Evers, you are now leading us backward.
Making CESA-7 your model curriculum is going to cause real harm. DPI is not only rashly and secretly endorsing what appears to be a radical version of whole language, but now school districts who have adopted research validated procedures, such as the Monroe School District, will feel themselves under pressure to fall in line with your recommended curriculum.
By all appearances, CESA-7’s program is absolutely out of keeping with new Federal laws addressing Response to Intervention and Wisconsin’s own Specific Learning Disability Rule. CESA-7’s program will not earn us Race to the Top funding. Most significantly, CESA-7’s approach is going to harm children.
In medicine we would call this malpractice. There is clear and compelling data supporting one set of interventions (Monroe), and another set of intervention that are counter-indicated (CESA-7). This is not a matter of opinion, or people taking sides. This is an empirical question. If you don’t have them already, I hope you will find trusted advisors who will rise above the WSRA obfuscation and just look at the data. It is my impression that you are moving fast and receiving poor advice.
There are senior leaders at DPI who recognize that the reading-related input DPI has received has been substantially unbalanced. For example, there were about five senior WSRA members present at the Common Core meetings, meaning that I was substantially outnumbered. While ultimately unsuccessful due to logistics, an 11th hour effort was made to add researchers and leadership members from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition to the Common Core group.
The Leadership Group could achieve what you asked of it, which is to thoughtfully guide implementation of the Common Core. I am still willing to work with you on this goal.
State Superintendent Evers, I assume that you asked me to be a member of the Leadership Group in good faith, and will be disappointed to learn of what actually transpired with the group. You may have the false impression that CESA-7’s approach was vetted at your Common Core Leadership Group. Lastly, and most importantly, I trust you have every desire to see beyond destructive politics and find a way to protect the welfare of the children of Wisconsin.
Sincerely,
Dan Gustafson, PhD, EdM
Neuropsychologist, Dean Clinic

View a 133K PDF or Google Docs version.
Related:
How does Wisconsin Compare: 2 Big Goals.

Wisconsin Teacher Content Knowledge Requirement Comparison

# Wisconsin Considering New Ways of Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness

Who the best teachers are in that kid’s school. Who’s hard, who’s easy, who makes you work, who lets you get away with stuff, who gets you interested in things, who’s not really on top of what’s going on. In other words: how good each teacher is.
A lot of the time, the fifth-grader’s opinions are on target.
But would you want to base a teacher’s pay or career on that?
Sorry, the experts are right. It’s tough to get a fair, thorough and insightful handle on how to judge a teacher.
“If there was a magic answer for this, somebody would have thought of it a long time ago,” Bradley Carl of Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:  told a gathering of about 100 educators and policy-makers last week.

The Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been working on “Value Added Assessment” using the oft-criticized WKCE

# Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform; Advocating Benchmarking

Marc Tucker:

This paper is the answer to a question: What would the education policies and practices of the United States be if they were based on the policies and practices of the countries that now lead the world in student performance? It is adapted from the last two chapters of a book to be published in September 2011 by Harvard Education Press. Other chapters in that book describe the specific strategies pursued by Canada (focusing on Ontario), China (focusing on Shanghai), Finland, Japan and Singapore, all of which are far ahead of the United States. The research on these countries was performed by a team assembled by the National Center on Education and the Economy, at the request of the OECD.
A century ago, the United States was among the most eager benchmarkers in the world. We took the best ideas in steelmaking, industrial chemicals and many other fields from England and Germany and others and put them to work here on a scale that Europe could not match. At the same time, we were borrowing the best ideas in education, mainly from the Germans and the Scots. It was the period of the most rapid growth our economy had ever seen and it was the time in which we designed the education system that we still have today. It is fair to say that, in many important ways, we owe the current shape of our education system to industrial benchmarking.
But, after World War II, the United States appeared to reign supreme in both the industrial and education arenas and we evidently came to the conclusion that we had little to learn from anyone. As the years went by, one by one, country after country caught up to and then surpassed us in several industries and more or less across the board in precollege education. And still we slept.

Well worth reading. I thought about this topic – benchmarking student progress via the oft-criticized WKCE during this past week’s Madison School District Strategic Planning Update. I’ll have more on that next week.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

# Madison school officials want new standardized tests

Matthew DeFour:

Madison students are slated to get a double dose of standardized tests in the coming years as the state redesigns its annual series of exams while school districts seek better ways to measure learning.
For years, district students in grades three through eight and grade 10 have taken the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a series of state-mandated tests that measure school accountability.
Last month, in addition to the state tests, eighth- and ninth-graders took one of three different tests the district plans to introduce in grades three through 10. Compared with the WKCE, the tests are supposed to more accurately assess whether students are learning at, above or below grade level. Teachers also will get the results more quickly.
“Right now we have a vacuum of appropriate assessment tools,” said Tim Peterson, Madison’s assistant director of curriculum and assessment. “The standards have changed, but the measurement tool that we’re required by law to use — the WKCE — is not connected.”

I’m glad that the District is planning alternatives to the WKCE.

# Tests Reveal Madison Schools Wrestle With Achievement Gaps Tests Examined Reading, Math Proficiency

Channel3000:

Madison Metropolitan School District officials are beginning to digest new statewide test score results.
The results for Madison are mixed, but district leaders said that they believe they have a lot of work to do to improve.
The tests reveal that Madison is home to some very bright students, but Superintendent Dan Nerad said that schools aren’t doing enough for students who are struggling. He said the test results are proof.
The results showed that, in general, reading levels among students increased across the board while math performance improved only slightly.
District officials said that they also continue to be a “bi-modal” district — meaning there are students who are scoring at the highest level while it also has ones who are scoring at the lowest levels in nearly every grade in math and reading.

Related:

The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor. Wisconsin DPI WKCE data.

# Racial achievement gap narrows state-wide, but remains a problem in Madison

Matthew DeFour:

Statewide the gap between the percentage of white and black students scoring proficient or advanced closed 6.8 percentage points in math and 3.9 points in reading between 2005-06 and this year. Comparing white students to Hispanics, the gap closed 5.7 points in math and 3.7 points in reading.
In Madison the gap between white and black students closed 0.4 percentage points in math and 0.6 points in reading. Among Hispanics, the gap increased half a point in math and decreased 1 point in reading.
Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad was unavailable to comment Monday on the results.

In the two years Madison has collected and shared value-added numbers, it has seen some patterns emerging in elementary school math learning. But when compared with other districts, such as Milwaukee, Kiefer says there’s much less variation in the value- added scores of schools within the Madison district.
“You don’t see the variation because we do a fairly good job at making sure all staff has the same professional development,” he says.
Proponents of the value-added approach agree the data would be more useful if the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction were to establish a statewide value-added system. DPI is instead developing an assessment system to look at school-wide trends and improve instruction for individual students.
…..
But some question whether value-added data truly benefits all students, or is geared toward closing the gap between high- and low-performing students.
“Will the MMSD use new assessments…of students’ progress to match instruction levels with demonstrated learning levels?” asks Lorie Raihala, a Madison parent who is part of a group seeking better programming for high-achieving ninth- and 10th-graders at West High School. “So far the district has not done this.”
Others are leery of adding another measurement tool. David Wasserman, a teacher at Sennett Middle School and part of a planning group pushing to open Badger Rock Middle School, a green charter (see sidebar), made national news a few years ago when he refused to administer a mandatory statewide test. He still feels that a broad, student-centered evaluation model that takes multiple assessments into account gives the best picture.
“Assessment,” he says, “shouldn’t drive learning.”

Notes and links on “Value Added Assessment“, and the oft-criticized WKCE, on which it is based, here.

# ‘Hard Truth’ on Education New, Higher Standards for Proficiency Alter View of Years of Perceived Gains

Erasing years of academic progress, state education officials on Wednesday acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of children had been misled into believing they were proficient in English and math, when in fact they were not.
The bar for what it means to be “proficient” has now been set substantially higher. For instance, last year more than 77% of New York state students in grades three through eight reached proficiency in state English exams. Under the new standards, only 53% were considered proficient this year. The difference amounts to nearly 300,000 students across the state.
“We are facing the hard truth that the gains in the past were simply not as advertised,” said Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, during a news conference announcing the new standards.
In New York City, the number of students scoring proficient in English fell to 42% this year from 69% in 2009. In math, 54% of city children scored proficient this year, down from 82%.
The huge drops across the state raised questions about how much of the academic gains touted in the past several years were an illusion.

Related: The WKCE.

# A Review of State Academic Standards, and the Common Core

he K-12 academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and math produced last month by the Common Core State Standards Initiative are clearer and more rigorous than today’s ELA standards in 37 states and today’s math standards in 39 states, according to the Fordham Institute’s newest study. In 33 of those states, the Common Core bests both ELA and math standards. Yet California, Indiana and the District of Columbia have ELA standards that are clearly superior to those of the Common Core. And nearly a dozen states have ELA or math standards in the same league as Common Core. Read on to find out more and see how your state fared.

Wisconsin’s standards (WKCE) have often been criticized. This year’s study grants the Badger State a “D” in Language Arts and an “F” in Math.

# New York State’s Exams Became Easier to Pass, Education Officials Say

New York State education officials acknowledged on Monday that their standardized exams had become easier to pass over the last four years and said they would recalibrate the scoring for tests taken this spring, which is almost certain to mean thousands more students will fail.
While scores spiked significantly across the state at every grade level, there were no similar gains on other measurements, including national exams, they said.
“The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” David M. Steiner, the education commissioner, said during a Board of Regents meeting in Albany. “The word ‘proficient’ should tell you something, and right now that is not the case on our state tests.”

Wisconsin’s WKCE has been criticized for its lack of rigor, as well.

# Wisconsin’s Education Superintendent on the National “Common Core” Academic Standards

But signing Wisconsin on to the nationwide standards campaign may trump all of those. Wisconsin’s current standards for what children should learn have been criticized in several national analyses as weak, compared with what other states have. The common core is regarded as more specific and more focused on what students really should master.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the generally conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, is a big backer of the new standards. “There is no doubt whatsoever in Wisconsin’s case that the state would be better off with the common core standards than what it has today,” he said in a phone interview.
But standards are one thing. Making them mean something is another. Evers said that will be a major focus for him ahead.
“How are we going to make this happen in the classrooms of Wisconsin?” he asked.
The answer hinges on making the coming state testing system a meaningful way of measuring whether students have learned what they are supposed to learn. And that means teaching them the skills and abilities in the standards.
Does that mean Wisconsin will, despite its history, end up with statewide curricula in reading and math? Probably not, if you mean something the state orders local schools to do. But probably yes in terms of making recommendations that many schools are likely to accept.
“We will have a model curriculum, no question,” Evers said. He said more school districts are looking to DPI already for answers because, with the financial crunches they are in, they don’t have the capacity to research good curriculum choices.

# Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper With Test Scores

The staff of Normandy Crossing Elementary School outside Houston eagerly awaited the results of state achievement tests this spring. For the principal and assistant principal, high scores could buoy their careers at a time when success is increasingly measured by such tests. For fifth-grade math and science teachers, the rewards were more tangible: a bonus of \$2,850.
But when the results came back, some seemed too good to be true. Indeed, after an investigation by the Galena Park Independent School District, the principal, assistant principal and three teachers resigned May 24 in a scandal over test tampering.
The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test by “tubing” it — squeezing a test booklet, without breaking its paper seal, to form an open tube so that questions inside could be seen and used in the guide. The district invalidated students’ scores.
Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

# Young Wisconsin students’ math improves; high schoolers weaken

Wisconsin students continued to make steady gains in math proficiency in 2009-’10, boasting their best performance in five years, even as reading scores remained flat over that same time period, according to statewide test results released Wednesday.
Yet even though the overall proportion of students deemed proficient or advanced in math increased to 77.3% on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations from 72.8% in 2005-’06, the share of students considered at least proficient in 10th grade – the highest grade tested – decreased in that time.
The share of Wisconsin 10th-graders who scored proficient or advanced in math was 69.8% this school year, compared with 71.6% five years ago.
Meanwhile, reading proficiency remained almost constant, with 81.6% of students considered proficient or advanced on this year’s test vs. 81.7% in 2005-’06, when the current version of the WKCE first was implemented.

# What’s News: Monona Grove might be in the vanguard of Obama’s education plans

Monday’s story from Susan Troller about standardized tests explains how large school districts like Madison and Milwaukee are interested in what small Monona Grove is doing because its program offers much more detailed results than the standard Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) and delivers them far more quickly. But it’s also interesting to consider how Monona Grove might be in the vanguard of national changes in how students are taught and tested.
On Monday, President Barack Obama sent a blueprint to Congress for an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law pushed by President George W. Bush that ties federal funding to students’ standardized test results. Annual testing would still be required under Obama’s plan, but one major focus would change from meeting narrow grade-by-grade benchmarks and move toward achieving a common set of skills needed for life after high school, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

# The hype of ‘value-added’ in teacher evaluation

As a rookie mom, I used to be shocked when another parent expressed horror about a teacher I thought was a superstar. No more. The fact is that your kids’ results will vary with teachers, just as they do with pills, diets and exercise regimens.
Nonetheless, we all want our kids to have at least a few excellent teachers along the way, so it’s tempting to buy into hype about value-added measures (VAM) as a way to separate the excellent from the horrifying, or least the better from the worse.
It’s so tempting that VAM is likely to be part of a reauthorized No Child Left Behind. The problem is, researchers urge caution because of the same kinds of varied results featured in playground conversations.
Value-added measures use test scores to track the growth of individual students as they progress through the grades and see how much “value” a teacher has added.

The Madison School District has been using Value Added Assessment based on the oft – criticized WKCE.

# New annual Wisconsin school testing system on hold

Nearly six months after the state announced it was scrapping its annual test for public school students, efforts to replace it with a new assessment are on hold and state officials now estimate it will take at least three years to make the switch.
The reason for the delay is tied to what is happening in the national education scene.
Wisconsin is among the 48 states that have signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which expects to complete work on grade-by-grade expectations for students in English and math by early spring. Once that is done, the anticipation is that the state will adopt the new standards, using them to help craft the new statewide test.
Wisconsin officials also are planning to compete for part of \$350 million that the U.S. Education Department plans to award in the fall to state consortiums for test development.

The WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Exam) has been criticized for its lack of rigor. The Madison School District is using the WKCE as the basis for its value added assessment initiative.

# Value-Added Education in the Race to the Top

Bill Clinton may have invented triangulation – the art of finding a “third way” out of a policy dilemma – but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is practicing it to make desperately needed improvements in K-12 education. Unfortunately, his promotion of value-added education through “Race to the Top” grants to states could be thrown under the bus by powerful teachers’ unions that view reforms more for how they affect pay and job security than whether they improve student learning.
The traditional view of education holds that it is more process than product. Educators design a process, hire teachers and administrators to run it, put students through it and consider it a success. The focus is on the inputs – how much can we spend, what curriculum shall we use, what class size is best – with very little on measuring outputs, whether students actually learn. The popular surveys of America’s best schools and colleges reinforce this, measuring resources and reputation, not results. As they say, Harvard University has good graduates because it admits strong applicants, not necessarily because of what happens in the educational process.
In the last decade, the federal No Child Left Behind program has ushered in a new era of testing and accountability, seeking to shift the focus to outcomes. But this more businesslike approach does not always fit a people-centered field such as education. Some students test well, and others do not. Some schools serve a disproportionately high number of students who are not well prepared. Even in good schools, a system driven by testing and accountability incentivizes teaching to the test, neglecting other important and interesting ways to engage and educate students. As a result, policymakers and educators have been ambivalent, at best, about the No Child Left Behind regime.

Value Added Assessment” is underway in Madison, though the work is based in the oft-criticized state WKCE examinations.

# Mandated K-12 Testing in Wisconsin: A System in Need of Reform

By law public schools in Wisconsin must administer a rigid, comprehensive set of tests. In the fall of every school year students are tested in reading, math, language, science and social studies. Test results from each district and each school are posted on the Internet, passed along to the federal government to comply with No Child Left Behind requirements and are made available to parents. In an era where measurable student performance is essential, it is expected that Wisconsin’s elaborate system of testing will tell us how Wisconsin students are performing. Unfortunately the testing required by Wisconsin state law is not very good.

The purpose of state standards and state-mandated testing is to increase academic achievement. Does Wisconsin’s elaborate system of testing advance this goal? From every quarter the answer is a clear no. That is the consensus of independent, third-party evaluators. Wisconsin’s massive testing program has come under fire from the U.S. Department of Education which said that Wisconsin testing failed to adequately evaluate the content laid out in the state’s own standards. Further, a joint report issued by the independent Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association performed a detailed evaluation of testing in every state and ranked Wisconsin 42nd in the nation. The Fordham Institute gave Wisconsin’s testing a grade of “D-minus.”

Perhaps even more troublesome is that many Wisconsin school districts find the testing system inadequate. Over 68% of Wisconsin school districts that responded to a survey said they purchase additional testing to do what the state testing is supposed to do. These districts are well ahead of the state in understanding the importance of timely, rigorous testing.

This report lays out the thirty-year history of testing in Wisconsin and the criticism of the current testing requirement. It is the first of two reports to be issued regarding Wisconsin’s testing program. The second report will show how a new approach to testing will not only meet the standards that parents, teachers and the public expect, but will also allow teachers and policy makers to use testing to actually increase the achievement of Wisconsin’s children.

But perhaps as early as the 2010-’11 school year, things will be different:

• Changes are expected in the state standards for what students are supposed to learn in various grades and subjects. The primary goal of the WKCE is to measure how well students overall are doing in meeting those standards. But Mike Thompson, executive assistant to the state superintendent of public instruction, said new standards for English language arts and math should be ready by the end of this year.

As the policy institute studies note, the existing standards have been criticized in several national studies for being among the weakest in the U.S.

• The tests themselves will be altered in keeping with the new standards. Just how is not known, and one key component won’t be clear until perhaps sometime in 2010, the No Child Left Behind Act could be revised. What goes into the new education law will have a big impact on testing in every state.
• The way tests are given will change. There is wide agreement that the wave of the future is to do tests online, which would greatly speed up the process of scoring tests and making the results known. The lag of five months or more now before WKCE scores are released aggravates all involved.

The policy institute studies called for online testing, and the DPI’s Thompson agrees it is coming. Delays have largely been due to practical questions of how to give that many tests on computers in Wisconsin schools and the whole matter of dealing with the data involved.

• Also changing will be the way performance is judged.

Now, Wisconsin and most states measure which category of proficiency each student falls into, based on their answers. Reaching the level labeled “proficient” is the central goal.

Much more on the WKCE here.

# The Obama Education Splurge/Stimulus: More Testing

The USA’s public schools stand to be the biggest winners in Congress’ \$825 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled last week. Schools are scheduled to receive nearly \$142 billion over the next two years — more than health care, energy or infrastructure projects — and the stimulus could bring school advocates closer than ever to a long-sought dream: full funding of the No Child Left Behind law and other huge federal programs.
But tucked into the text of the proposal’s 328 pages are a few surprises: If they want the money — and they certainly do — schools must spend at least a portion of it on a few of education advocates’ long-sought dreams. In particular, they must develop:

• High-quality educational tests.
• Ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
• Longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress.

a

The Wisconsin test: WKCE has been criticized for its low standards. More on the WKCE here.

# Another Look at the Madison School District’s Use of “Value Added Assessment”

The analysis of data from 27 elementary schools and 11 middle schools is based on scores from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a state test required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Madison is the second Wisconsin district, after Milwaukee, to make a major push toward value-added systems, which are gaining support nationally as an improved way of measuring school performance.
Advocates say it’s better to track specific students’ gains over time than the current system, which holds schools accountable for how many students at a single point in time are rated proficient on state tests.
“This is very important,” Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad said. “We think it’s a particularly fair way … because it’s looking at the growth in that school and ascertaining the influence that the school is having on that outcome.”
The findings will be used to pinpoint effective teaching methods and classroom design strategies, officials said. But they won’t be used to evaluate teachers: That’s forbidden by state law.
The district paid about \$60,000 for the study.

Much more on “Value Added Assessment” here.
Ironically, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction stated the following:

“… The WKCE is a large-scale assessment designed to provide a snapshot of how well a district or school is doing at helping all students reach proficiency on state standards, with a focus on school and district-level accountability. A large-scale, summative assessment such as the WKCE is not designed to provide diagnostic information about individual students. Those assessments are best done at the local level, where immediate results can be obtained. Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum.”

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# Wisconsin, Mississippi Have “Easy State K-12 Exams” – NY Times

A state-by-state analysis by The New York Times found that in the 40 states reporting on their compliance so far this year, on average, 4 in 10 schools fell short of the law’s testing targets, up from about 3 in 10 last year. Few schools missed targets in states with easy exams, like Wisconsin and Mississippi, but states with tough tests had a harder time. In Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Mexico, which have stringent exams, 60 to 70 percent of schools missed testing goals. And in South Carolina, which has what may be the nation’s most rigorous tests, 83 percent of schools missed targets.

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# Wisconsin’s Low State Test Score Standards (“The Proficiency Illusion”)

Alan Borsuk: The study found that “cut scores” – the line between proficient and not proficient – vary widely among the 26 states, casting doubt on the question of what it means when a state says a certain percentage of its students are doing well. Those percentages are central to the way the federal No … Continue reading Wisconsin’s Low State Test Score Standards (“The Proficiency Illusion”)

# “Value Added Assessment” Madison School Board’s Performance & Achievement Committee Looks at “A Model to Measure Student Performance”

Video / 20MB Mp3 Audio Superintendent Art Rainwater gave a presentation on “Value Added Assessment” to the Madison School Board’s Performance & Achievement committee Monday evening. Art described VAA “as a method to track student growth longitudinally over time and to utilize that data to look at how successful we are at all levels of … Continue reading “Value Added Assessment” Madison School Board’s Performance & Achievement Committee Looks at “A Model to Measure Student Performance”

# Wisconsin State Student Test Scores Released

Andy Hall: Wisconsin students’ performances improved in math and held steady in reading, language arts, science and social studies, according to annual test data released today. Dane County students generally matched or exceeded state averages and paralleled the state’s rising math scores, although test results in Madison slipped slightly on some measures of reading, language … Continue reading Wisconsin State Student Test Scores Released