“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”

Peter Sobol on the 2007 Wisconsin DPI State test results (WKCE):

The results for the WKCE test administered in November 2007 were finally released on May 30th. That is more than six months after the test was given. Worse, the data files containing the detailed results that can be used for proper statistical analysis of the results are STILL not available for download. Assessments are information that degrades over time. The fact that it takes six months to get the data out (whatever its other shortcomings) cheats the taxpayers of the full value of their investment.
At the very least the WI DPI should be embarrassed by the fact it takes this long to release the test results. Personally I find it outrageous. I had an email exchange with DPI officials concerning this long delay and the loss of value, this is an excerpt from part of that response (italics mine):

… 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.

Does anyone else find the fact that the state issues WKCE results to individual students surprising given the above statement?

The Madison School District, together with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research is using local WKCE results for “Value Added Assessment“.
Much more on the WKCE here.
Minnesota recently administered their first online science test.

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

To test or not to test, public education’s epic drama

Alan Borsuk: Not long ago, some people on the left and some on the right hated tests, but they weren’t much of a force. Now, everyone hates tests — there are too many, they waste time, they don’t prove anything, they stress everyone out, they’re of low quality, they distort education, they’re being used for … Continue reading To test or not to test, public education’s epic drama

2012-13 MMSD WKCE Results


Tap or click to view a larger version.

Higher bar for WKCE results paints different picture of student achievement
Matt DeFour
Wisconsin student test scores released Tuesday look very different than they did a year ago, though not because of any major shift in student performance.
Similar to recent years, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results show gains in math and reading over the past five years, a persistent and growing performance gap between black and white students, and Milwaukee and Racine public school students outperforming their peers in the private school voucher program.
But the biggest difference is the scores reflect a higher bar for what students in each grade level should know and be able to do.
Only 36.2 percent of students who took the reading test last October met the new proficiency bar. Fewer than half, 48.1 percent, of students were proficient in math. When 2011-12 results were released last spring, those figures were both closer to 80 percent.
The change doesn’t reflect a precipitous drop in student test scores. The average scores in reading and math are about the same as last year for each grade level.
Instead, the change reflects a more rigorous standard for proficiency similar to what is used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP is administered to a sample of students in each state every other year and is referred to as “the nation’s report card.”
The state agreed to raise the proficiency benchmark in math and reading last year in order to qualify for a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The benchmark did not rise for the language arts, science and social studies tests.
“Adjusting to higher expectations will take time and effort,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said. “But these are necessary changes that will ultimately help our schools better prepare all students to be college and career ready and link with work being done throughout the state to implement new standards.”
Evers also called on the Legislature to include private voucher schools in the state’s new accountability system.
He highlighted that test scores for all Milwaukee and Racine students need to improve. Among Milwaukee voucher students, 10.8 percent in reading and 11.9 percent in math scored proficient or better. Among Milwaukee public school students, it was 14.2 percent in reading and 19.7 percent in math.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed expanding the state’s voucher program, including to such districts as Madison.
Changes in Dane County
The state previously announced how the changing bar would affect scores statewide and parents have seen their own students’ results in recent weeks, but the new figures for the first time show the impact on entire schools and districts.
In Dane County school districts, the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on the test dropped on average by 42 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in math.
Madison schools had one of the smallest drops compared to its neighboring districts.
Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham noted schools with a higher number of students scoring in the “advanced” category experienced less of a drop. Madison’s smaller drop could reflect a higher proportion of students scoring in the top tier.
At the same time, Madison didn’t narrow the gap between minority and white student test results. Only 9 percent of black sixth-graders and only 2 percent of sixth-grade English language learners scored proficient in reading.
“It reinforces the importance of our work in the years ahead,” Cheatham said. “We’re going to work on accelerating student outcomes.”
Middleton-Cross Plains School Board president Ellen Lindgren said she hasn’t heard many complaints from parents whose students suddenly dropped a tier on the test. Like Madison and other districts across the state, Middleton-Cross Plains sent home letters bracing parents for the change.
But Lindgren fears the changing standards come at the worst time for public schools, which have faced tougher scrutiny and reduced state support.
“I’m glad that the standards have been raised by the state, because they were low, but this interim year, hopefully people won’t panic too much,” Lindgren said. “The public has been sold on the idea that we’re failing in our education system, and I just don’t believe that’s true.”
Next fall will be the last year students in grades 3-8 and 10 take the paper-and-pencil WKCE math and reading tests. Wisconsin is part of a coalition of states planning to administer a new computer-based test in the 2014-15 school year.
The proposed state budget also provides for students in grades 9-11 to take the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT college and career readiness tests in future years.

Superintendent Cheatham is to be commended for her informed, intelligent and honest reaction to the MMSD’s results when compared to those of neighboring districts.
View a WKCE summary here (PDF).

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.

Soglin right not to soft-pedal problems

Carl Silverman:

I agree with Mayor Paul Soglin. Tackling our “urban problems” is preferable to soft-pedaling them and relying instead on improved public relations.
Given the wide achievement gap and the portion of black and Latino kids in our schools, it’s hard to believe Superintendent Jane Belmore’s claim that most of our school kids are doing very well. If, as Soglin believes, much of the gap is related to the many kids who transfer from other districts and are behind grade level upon entry, maybe the district should place them in grades appropriate for their achievement levels rather than basing placement solely on age. Similar reasoning might lead to abandoning present widespread use of social promotion, and promoting only those kids who have achieved grade level skills by the end of the year.

Related: “When controlling for demographic characteristics, the effects of additional years in MMSD on WKCE scores are largely ambiguous”: An Update on Madison’s Transfer Students & The Achievement Gap.

Wisconsin Education Rule-Making Battle: Should We Care? Yes; DPI Election Politics

Why should parents, citizens, taxpayers and students pay attention to this type of “rulemaking” case?
WKCE (Wisconsin’s oft-criticized soft academic standards – soon to be replaced) and MTEL-90 (Wisconsin adopts Massachusetts’ teacher content knowledge requirements).
I found Ed Treleven’s article interesting, particularly the special interests funding the rule making legal challenge. I am a big fan of our three part government system: judicial, legislative and executive. That said, the Wisconsin DPI has not exactly distinguished itself over the past decade. The WKCE “tyranny of low expectations” is exhibit one for this writer.
Ed Treleven

Even before the change in the law, rules ultimately have to be approved by the Legislature.
Democrats had labeled the law a power grab by Walker when it was proposed after Walker was elected and before he took office. He signed it into law in May 2011.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Madison Teachers Inc., the Wisconsin Education Association Council and others. Defendants were Walker, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch and schools superintendent Tony Evers. Smith’s decision, however, notes that Evers also asked the court to block the law. Evers issued a statement Tuesday saying he was pleased with Smith’s ruling.
Lester Pines, who represented the teachers groups in court, said the law as applied to DPI ran counter to a unanimous state Supreme Court decision in 1996 that said the Legislature cannot give equal or superior authority to any “other officer.”

Finally, it appears that current DPI Superintendent Tony Evers is ready to roll for the spring, 2013 election. I have noticed a number of DPI related inquiries on this site. Perhaps this will be a competitive race!
UPDATE: Gilman Halsted:

The Madison teachers union was one was one of seven plaintiffs that challenged this provision of ACT 21. Union President John Matthews says he’s pleased with the ruling.
“It’s simply because of the way the Constitution defines the role of the state superintendent,” he said. “The governor has equal authority not superior authority to the state superintendent and we think because of the enterprise if you will of public education that should not be a political issue. And Judge Smith saw it our way.”
But a spokesman for the governor’s office says he’s confident that Judge Smith’s ruling will be overturned on appeal and that the governor will retain his rule making veto power. Opponents of this new executive power see it as a power grab. And although this ruling appears to limit the governor’s power over rules that affect education it leaves his authority intact for administrative rules from any other state agency. State Superintendent Tony Evers released a statement hailing the ruling and pointing out that he had proposed language that would have carved out his exemption from the governor’s rule vetoes before the law was passed.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other state leaders concerned with education should work toward a common school evaluation system.

Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel:

Wisconsin needs a new system of school accountability, but implementing effective measures will be difficult because there are so many different ideas about what it takes to make a good school.
The best schools have high standards in the basics – reading, math, science and writing. But they also excel at art, music and gym. They are places with strong leadership, inspired teachers and an organic system of training and mentoring.
To create more such schools and hold all schools accountable in a fair manner, though, requires all those with an interest in that issue to be at the table. Unfortunately, that’s not the case now.
When Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers formed a team to improve school accountability, the Wisconsin Education Association Council chose to sit this one out.
We get it: The state’s largest teachers union has plenty of reason to be upset with Walker for stripping it and other public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights – and for cutting funding to schools. But we still think the union’s refusal to take a place at the table was a mistake. The union needs to be involved in such efforts. Now, it’s on the outside looking in.

Wisconsin’s current assessment system is the oft-criticized WKCE, which has some of our nation’s lowest standards.
A Closer Look at Wisconsin’s Test Scores Reveals Troubling Trend by Christian D’Andrea.
WEAC’s Mary Bell advocates a “holistic” approach to school accountability.

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”.

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”.

Notes and Links: President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan Visit Madison’s Wright Middle School (one of two Charter Schools in Madison).


Background

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will visit Madison’s Wright Middle School Wednesday, November 4, 2009, purportedly to give an education speech. The visit may also be related to the 2010 Wisconsin Governor’s race. The Democrat party currently (as of 11/1/2009) has no major announced candidate. Wednesday’s event may include a formal candidacy announcement by Milwaukee Mayor, and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett. UPDATE: Alexander Russo writes that the visit is indeed about Barrett and possible legislation to give the Milwaukee Mayor control of the schools.

Possible Participants:

Wright Principal Nancy Evans will surely attend. Former Principal Ed Holmes may attend as well. Holmes, currently Principal at West High has presided over a number of controversial iniatives, including the “Small Learning Community” implementation and several curriculum reduction initiatives (more here).
I’m certain that a number of local politicians will not miss the opportunity to be seen with the President. Retiring Democrat Governor Jim Doyle, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (Falk has run for Governor and Attorney General in the past) and Madison School Superintendent Dan Nerad are likely to be part of the event. Senator Russ Feingold’s seat is on the fall, 2010 ballot so I would not be surprised to see him at Wright Middle School as well.

Madison’s Charter Intransigence

Madison, still, has only two charter schools for its 24,295 students: Wright and Nuestro Mundo.
Wright resulted from the “Madison Middle School 2000” initiative. The District website has some background on Wright’s beginnings, but, as if on queue with respect to Charter schools, most of the links are broken (for comparison, here is a link to Houston’s Charter School Page). Local biotech behemoth Promega offered free land for Madison Middle School 2000 [PDF version of the District’s Promega Partnership webpage]. Unfortunately, this was turned down by the District, which built the current South Side Madison facility several years ago (some School Board members argued that the District needed to fulfill a community promise to build a school in the present location). Promega’s kind offer was taken up by Eagle School. [2001 Draft Wright Charter 60K PDF]

Wright & Neustro Mundo Background

Wright Middle School Searches:

Bing / Clusty / Google / Google News / Yahoo

Madison Middle School 2000 Searches:

Bing / Clusty / Google / Google News / Yahoo

Nuestro Mundo, Inc. is a non-profit organization that was established in response to the commitment of its founders to provide educational, cultural and social opportunities for Madison’s ever-expanding Latino community.” The dual immersion school lives because the community and several School Board members overcame District Administration opposition. Former Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts commented in 2005:

The Madison Board of Education rarely rejects the recommendations of Superintendent Rainwater. I recall only two times that we have explicitly rejected his views. One was the vote to authorize Nuestro Mundo Community School as a charter school. The other was when we gave the go-ahead for a new Wexford Ridge Community Center on the campus of Memorial High School.

Here’s how things happen when the superintendent opposes the Board’s proposed action.

Nuestro Mundo:

Bing / Clusty / Google / Google News / Yahoo

The local school District Administration (and Teacher’s Union) intransigence on charter schools is illustrated by the death of two recent community charter initiatives: The Studio School and a proposed Nuestro Mundo Middle School.

About the Madison Public Schools

Those interested in a quick look at the state of Madison’s public schools should review Superintendent Dan Nerad’s proposed District performance measures. This document presents a wide variety of metrics on the District’s current performance, from advanced course “participation” to the percentage of students earning a “C” in all courses and suspension rates, among others.

Education Hot Topics

Finally, I hope President Obama mentions a number of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s recent hot topics, including:

This wonderful opportunity for Wright’s students will, perhaps be most interesting for the ramifications it may have on the adults in attendance. Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman recent Rotary speech alluded to school district’s conflicting emphasis on “adult employment” vs education.

Wisconsin State Test Score Comparisons: Madison Middle Schools:

WKCE Madison Middle School Comparison: Wright / Cherokee / Hamilton / Jefferson / O’Keefe / Sennett / Sherman / Spring Harbor / Whitehorse

About Madison:

UPDATE: How Do Students at Wright Compare to Their Peers at Other MMSD Middle Schools?

The Madison School District on WKCE Data

Madison School District 1.5MB PDF:

The 2008-09 school year marked the fourth consecutive year in which testing in grades 3 through 8 and 10 was conducted in fulfillment of the federal No Child left Behind law. The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams (WKCE) is a criterion-referenced test (CRT) where a student’s performance is compared to a specific set of learning standard outcomes. The WKCE-CRT includes testing in all seven grade levels reading and math and in grades 4, 8 and 10 additional testing in language arts, science and social studies. Just under 12,400 MMSD students participated in this year’s WKCE-CRT.


Under NClB, schools are required to test 95% of their full academic year (FAY) students in reading and math. Madison’s test participation rates exceeded 95% in all grade levels. Grades 3 through 8 achieved 99% test participation or higher while the District’s 10th graders reached 98% in test participation.



In general, performance was relatively unchanged in the two academic areas tested across the seven grade levels. In reading, across the seven grades tested four grade levels had an increase in the percentage of students scoring at the proficient or higher performance categories compared with the previous year while three grades showed a decline in the percentage. In math, three grades increased proficient or higher performance, three grades declined, and one remained the same.



The changing demographics of the district affect the overall aggregate achievement data. As the district has experienced a greater proportion of students from subgroups which are at a disadvantage in testing, e.g., non-native English speakers, or English language learners (Ells), the overall district averages have correspondingly declined. Other subgroups which traditionally perform well on student achievement tests, i.e., non-low income students and white students, continue to perform very high relative to statewide peer groups. Therefore, it is important disaggregate the data to interpret and understand the district results.

Jeff Henriques recently took a look at math performance in the Madison School District.

Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum

WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison’s Advanced Students

For many years now, parents and community members, including members of Madison United for Academic Excellence, have expressed concerns about the decline in rigor and the lack of adequate challenge in our district’s curriculum. The release this week of WKCE scores for the November 2008 testing led me to wonder about the performance of our district’s strongest students. While most analyses of WKCE scores focus on the percentages of students scoring at the Advanced and Proficient levels, these numbers do not tell us about changes in the percent of students at each particular level of performance. We can have large increases in the percent of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels because we have improved the performance of students who were previously at the Basic level on the WKCE, but yet fail to have any effect on the performance of our district’s strongest students. This is the argument that we are improving the performance of our low ability students, but failing to increase the performance of our already successful students. An examination of the numbers of students who are performing at just the Advanced level on the WKCE provides us with some insight into the academic progress of our more successful students.
I decided to examine WKCE math scores for students across the district. While it is not possible to track the performance of individual students, it is possible to follow the performance of a cohort as they advance through the system. Thus students who are now in 10th grade, took the 8th grade WKCE in 2006 and the 4th grade test in 2002. Because there have been significant changes in the demographics of the district’s students, I split the data by socio-economic status to remove the possibility of declines in WKCE performance simply being the result of increased numbers of low income students. Although the WKCE has been criticized for not being a rigorous enough assessment tool, the data on our students’ math performance are not encouraging. The figures below indicate that the percent of students scoring at the Advanced level on the WKCE decreases as students progress through the system, and this decline is seen in both our low income students and in our Not Economically Disadvantaged students. The figures suggest that while there is some growth in the percent of Advanced performing students in elementary school, there is a significant decline in performance once students begin taking math in our middle schools and this decline continues through high school. I confess that I take no pleasure in sharing this data; in fact, it makes me sick.

Because it might be more useful to examine actual numbers, I have provided tables showing the data used in the figures above. Reading across a row shows the percent of students in a class cohort scoring at the Advanced level as they have taken the WKCE test as they progressed from grades 3 – 10.

Percent of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade
2005
8
2006
8.8
2007
11
7.7
2008
5.6
8.7
2009
8.5
6.7
2010
9.2
8.4
2011
12
12.5
11.1
8
2012
9.7
10.4
9.5
8.2
2013
15.3
14.7
15.1
11.7
10.8
2014
12
13.6
16.1
13.2
2015
20.1
15
18
11.7
2016
15.4
17.1
18.4
2017
12.9
17
2018
13.8

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



Andy Hall:

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.”

Related:

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:

.

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

Andy Hall takes a look at a useful topic:

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.

The Madison School District and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research are using the WKCE as a benchmark for “Value Added Assessment”.
Related:

Analyzing Madison High School’s WKCE Scores

“Madtown Chris”: For those folks so enamored of the various suburban “great schools” you should make sure you look at the facts. Specifically, I’m pretty amazed at the relatively poor performance of Waunakee HS. It’s down in the 66th percentile statewide. That’s not terrible but it’s not a super-dooper school either. Contrast it with West … Continue reading Analyzing Madison High School’s WKCE Scores

More on WKCE scores – Missing Students

Chan Stroman posted a valuable and in-depth examination of the District’s WKCE scores, and is it in the spirit of that posting that I would like to share my own little examination of our most recent test results. Rather than focusing on the scores of our students, this is an investigation of the numbers of … Continue reading More on WKCE scores – Missing Students

2006 MMSD WKCE Scores: A Closer Look

Test scores from the November 2006 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) and companion Wisconsin Alternate Assessment (WAA) were released by the state Department of Public Instruction this week. The MMSD press release on Madison students’ scores (“Despite changes and cuts, Madison students test well”) reports the following “notable achievements”: that reading scores have remained … Continue reading 2006 MMSD WKCE Scores: A Closer Look

Wisconsin’s “Broad interpretation of how NCLB progress can be “met” through the WKCE”

A reader involved in these issues forwarded this article by Kevin Carey: Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB [Full Report: 180K PDF] Critics on both the Left and the Right have charged that the No Child Left Behind Act tramples states’ rights by imposing a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all accountability system on … Continue reading Wisconsin’s “Broad interpretation of how NCLB progress can be “met” through the WKCE”

Needs Improvement: How Wisconsin’s Report Card Can Mislead Parents

Will Flanders: This year, no Forward Exam was administered to Wisconsin students due to the coronavirus and school shutdowns. For policymakers, this presents a challenge as it makes it more difficult to understand where problems lie, and where the focus should be for improvement. However, this also presents an opportunity to make modifications to some … Continue reading Needs Improvement: How Wisconsin’s Report Card Can Mislead Parents

Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement

Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques [PDF]: Dear Simpson Street Free Press: Thank you for leading the way in looking more closely at recent reports of an increase in MMSD minority student graduation rates and related issues: http://simpsonstreetfreepress.org/special-report/local-education/rising-grad-rates http://simpsonstreetfreepress.org/special-report/local-education/act-college-readiness-gap Inspired by your excellent work, we decided to dig deeper. We call the result of our efforts … Continue reading Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement

Wisconsin K-12 Academic Standards And The Department Of Public Instruction Superintendent Campaign

Molly Beck: He said the revision is necessary because the current state report card system should be more “honest and transparent” about how well schools are educating students. The current system rates schools higher than student test scores indicate, he said. “Fundamentally, the ratings are very likely to go down because that represents how our … Continue reading Wisconsin K-12 Academic Standards And The Department Of Public Instruction Superintendent Campaign

Wisconsin’s Performance on the 2015 NAEP

Tap for a larger version. Wisconsin Reading Coalition: Are you interested in how Wisconsin 4th graders’ reading performance stacks up against other 4th graders nationwide? The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), administered every two years, is the one way we can get answers. See the attached document for the results from the 2015 NAEP, … Continue reading Wisconsin’s Performance on the 2015 NAEP

Badger Exam results; Madison Substantially Lags State Results….

Tap for a larger version. Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email: LETRS Training For the fourth year, the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project will offer free training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) in Milwaukee. Ten Saturday classes run from March into June. There are approximately ten open spots, with registration … Continue reading Badger Exam results; Madison Substantially Lags State Results….

analysis of math, reading scores ‘very disconcerting’

Greg Toppo: Decades of bleak results from kids’ standardized tests now seem almost routine, but a new study made public Tuesday scratches beneath the surface to pin down just how many students in major U.S. metropolitan areas can actually read or do math proficiently. The results: Startlingly few. If all of Detroit’s fourth-graders took the … Continue reading analysis of math, reading scores ‘very disconcerting’

Wisconsin DPI “Rule Making” vs. Legislation in the Courts..

Molly Beck: The conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in a court filing this week asked the state Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court decision that upheld Evers’ rule-making authority related to education. The brief was filed on behalf of the state’s largest business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the … Continue reading Wisconsin DPI “Rule Making” vs. Legislation in the Courts..

Commentary On Wisconsin’s K-12 test Regime…

Molly Beck: According to the Department of Administration, bids were sought for a Web-based exam testing third- through eighth-graders in English and fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders in math and science. A separate bidding process was set up for a new exam to test students in social studies. Daniel Wilson of the DOA said the process … Continue reading Commentary On Wisconsin’s K-12 test Regime…

Latest glitch delays Common Core exam in Wisconsin

Erin Richards: The new standardized state achievement exam has been in the works for years, and is expected to be a much better gauge of student performance than the old pencil-and-paper, fill-in-the-bubble Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam. The Badger Exam will be taken online and should be tougher, because it will align with the more … Continue reading Latest glitch delays Common Core exam in Wisconsin

K-16 Governance: An Oxymoron? Wallace Hall Was Right About UT All Along

Jim Schutze: When Hall was early on the board, the university revealed to regents there were problems with a large private endowment used to provide off-the-books six-figure “forgivable loans” to certain faculty members, out of sight of the university’s formal compensation system. Hall wanted to know how big the forgivable loans were and who decided … Continue reading K-16 Governance: An Oxymoron? Wallace Hall Was Right About UT All Along

No profit left behind

Stephanie Simon: A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails … Continue reading No profit left behind

Despite angst over standardized testing, Wisconsin may be on right path

Alan Borsuk: This may be the most politically incorrect thing I’ve ever said in this space: There are positive things to say about what’s going on in standardized testing in Wisconsin. Everybody hates testing. Kids, teachers, politicians of all stripes. Even the biggest testing advocates in the country say there is too much testing. Testing … Continue reading Despite angst over standardized testing, Wisconsin may be on right path

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 … Continue reading Why 14 Wisconsin high schools take international standardized test

Benchmarking UK students vs Chinese: Light Years From Wisconsin

Richard Adams: England’s GCSE pupils will be benchmarked against their Chinese counterparts from 2017, in a response from exam regulators to ministers’ calls to toughen up a marking system they say has been discredited by years of grade inflation. At the urging of the education secretary, Michael Gove, Ofqual has unveiled a plan to link … Continue reading Benchmarking UK students vs Chinese: Light Years From Wisconsin

Civics & the Ed Schools; Ripe for Vast Improvement

I have a special interest in Civics education. My high school civics/government teacher drilled the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers into our small brains. This Vietnam Vet worked very hard to make sure that we understood how the US political system worked, or not. While reading the ongoing pervasive spying news, including … Continue reading Civics & the Ed Schools; Ripe for Vast Improvement

Wisconsin DPI & Data Politics

Jason Stein:

In the most recent release of schools data by DPI, the agency gave the information to the media ahead of time — a practice known as an embargo that gives journalists time to properly digest the data with an agreement not to publish until a certain deadline.
But DPI highlighted all the voucher students’ scores against all the Milwaukee Public Schools’ students scores, instead of separating out the scores of low-income MPS students and comparing only those to the voucher students. That data was not included in the initial release. As a result, it was not included in the stories that the media initially wrote about the results, but was addressed in follow-up stories.
The DPI said the income limit was moot because of a GOP-led law change that allowed more mixed-income children to use vouchers, meaning it was fair to compare all the students in voucher schools to all the children in public schools. Voucher advocates said DPI had an agenda and made their students’ scores appear lower than they would have been against those of only the low-income MPS students.
Other data that can be requested from DPI about voucher schools include: school policies, accreditation status, hours of instruction, the number of applications they have accepted and not accepted, their waiting list numbers, application numbers and payment amounts.

Related:
“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”
.

Commentary on Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Increases, Voucher Changes

Jason Stein

Lawmakers also want to expand school voucher programs beyond the borders of Milwaukee and eastern Racine County. The programs allow parents who meet income thresholds to send their children to religious schools and other private schools at taxpayer expense.
Under the motion approved 12-4 along party lines by Republicans on the budget panel:

  • Public schools would receive $150 more per student in general aid this fall and another $150 increase the following year. The plan would cost $289 million over two years, with $231.5 million funded with state taxes and the rest with an additional $52 million in higher local property taxes and an increase in expected revenues from the state lottery.
    School districts would have the authority to spend this new money. Walker wanted to give schools $129 million in state aid but require all of it to go toward property tax relief, rather than be used for new expenses.
    Under the budget committee’s proposal, total property taxes would increase by less than 1% per year, with school levies going up somewhat more than that.

  • A new voucher program would become available to all students outside Milwaukee and Racine. It would be limited to 500 students the first year and 1,000 students every year thereafter. Walker wanted no limits on the number of students in the program after the second year.
    If there are more students seeking slots in the program than allowed, the proposal would allocate the available slots by lottery. The slots would go to the 25 schools with the most applications, with each school getting at least 10 seats.

  • The new program would be available to students in any school district. Walker wanted to make it available in districts with 4,000 or more students that were identified as struggling on school report cards issued by the state.
  • No more than 1% of the students of any given school district could participate in the new program.
  • Over 12 years, the negative financial impacts for the Milwaukee Public Schools from the voucher program here would be phased out.
  • The new program would be available to students of families making 185% of the federal poverty level or less — well below the income thresholds for Milwaukee and Racine. Those programs are available to families making up to 300% of the federal poverty level, with a higher threshold for married couples.
  • Voucher schools in all parts of the state would receive $7,210 per K-8 student and $7,856 per high school student — up from $6,442 currently. Walker wanted to provide $7,050 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and the same larger increase to high school students.



Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Tony Evers (PDF):

Today, Republican leaders are finalizing a deal to likely expand Wisconsin’s private school voucher program statewide. While this dramatic proposal has significant implications for citizens and taxpayers across Wisconsin, it has been developed behind closed doors with no public input, no public hearings, and no public fiscal analysis. If this proposal becomes law, taxpayers across Wisconsin will be financing a new entitlement for private school children whose tuition is currently paid for by their parents. To address the lack of information about the potential fiscal effects of this program, the attached table estimates potential long-term costs of statewide subsidization of private school tuition on a district-by-district basis. Cost to subsidize current private school students only: up to $560 million annually
While some lawmakers claim the purpose of the program is to provide educational choices to those who cannot afford it, the current school choice programs in Milwaukee and Racine provide vouchers to families who are already choosing to send their children to private schools. As many as 50% of the children participating in the Racine choice program were already in private schools when they began receiving a state-funded subsidy in
2011-12. If the voucher program is expanded statewide, it can be assumed that current private school families would also be eligible for this new entitlement.

Related:

NJ DOE Releases New School Performance Reports; Wisconsin? Stays Quo…

Laura Waters:

At long last the New Jersey Department of Education has released its “NJ School Performance Reports,” which replace the old School Report Cards. Details on school performance is greatly expanded now includes, according to the Christie Administration’s press release, “brand new data on college and career readiness and provide comparison to “peer schools” in order to provide a more complete picture of school performance for educators and the general public.”
Here’s coverage from the Star-Ledger, The Record, the Courier-Post, Asbury Park Press, Press of Atlantic City, NJ Spotlight, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The state also released the annual Taxpayers’ Guide to Education. Annual per pupil spending in NJ (if you use the state’s algorithm; others say it inflates costs) is $18,045, up 4.2% since last year.
Of course, there’s enormous range within that average. Fairview Boro (Bergen), for example, spends $13,317 per pupil. Asbury Park City spends $30,502. The plush magnet schools in Bergen County spend $35,900.

The Wisconsin DPI…..
April, 2013: Chief among them has been this notion from state superintendent Tony Evers that the state’s new accountability system, known as state report cards, shouldn’t be used to determine which districts get vouchers.
.
March, 2013: Evers on report cards: this last year was a pilot year. It’s just not ready for prime time.
June, 2008: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

A Critique of the Wisconsin DPI and Proposed School Choice Changes

Chris Rickert:

Chief among them has been this notion from state superintendent Tony Evers that the state’s new accountability system, known as state report cards, shouldn’t be used to determine which districts get vouchers.
Under Walker’s plan, districts with at least 4,000 students and two or more schools getting a D or an F under a new rating system would be eligible for vouchers. Evers — no fan of vouchers anyway — says the report cards were not intended for such use and need more refinement over several years.
But what was the purpose of spending more than a year working with a diverse group of education and business groups and state elected officials to create the report cards — which replaced the widely panned No Child Left Behind system — if not to use them to make consequential decisions about education?
On Thursday, Department of Public Instruction director of Education Information Services John Johnson called the report cards a “work in progress” that aren’t an appropriate tool for making a “major policy decision.”
Among their current limitations are that they are based on tests that are expected to change two years from now, they can’t show growth in high school student achievement, some schools weren’t rated, and there’s too little data to reliably identify trends in school performance.
Adam Gamoran, director of the UW-Madison-based Wisconsin Center for Education Research and a skeptic on voucher programs, agrees that the tool isn’t perfect and may well change, but “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them now” to rate schools.
It’s also not as if DPI itself didn’t expect to use the report cards. Its budget request — which Walker didn’t include in his budget — included about $10.3 million over the next two years to replicate best practices from schools deemed high-performing by the report cards, as well as to help schools deemed low-performing by the report cards get better.

John Nichols appears to support the present DPI approach. Status Quo K-12 vs a Little “Reform” Rhetoric at a Wisconsin Budget Hearing.
Related: The Wisconsin DPI in 2008:
“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.
http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2013/03/wisconsin_educa_14.php
A citizen, parent, voter and taxpayer might ask what the DPI has been
with state and federal taxpayer dollars since 2008?
Meanwhile, Alabama (!), Minnesota, Florida and Massachusetts are
continuing to aim high and compare their students to the world.
http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/benchmark.asp
And, Vietnam is teaching computer science concepts in primary school.
http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2013/03/primary_school_.php

“PSA”: Your Student’s Test Scores May be Lower than in Years Past

NBC 15:

If you’ve got a kid in third through eighth grade–or tenth–they took the WKCE exam this fall. “The Wisconsin content and knowledge exam and it’s been the statewide test for Wisconsin for quite a few years now,” said Dr. Jane Belmore, the superintendent of Madison schools.
Your student could score at one of these assessment levels: minimal, basic, proficient or advanced.”This year our WKCE test has been alligned with a nationally-normed test,” said Dr. Belmore.
Your student’s scores should be showing up soon and it’s possible he or she won’t be scoing as highly as in the past. “The results of this reallignment is that we’re holding ourselves and our students to a higher bar,” she said. “So students may be performing at the same level or even better than they were and yet still not get the kind of report that parents might be expecting.”
Dr. Belmore said it doesn’t necessarily mean your child is doing less well, everyone’s just being held to a higher standard. “If our students are being proficient and we’re expecting to see proficient we might see basic,” she said.

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.

Does the School Board Matter? Ed Hughes argues that experience does, but what about “Governance” and “Student Achievement”?

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

Call me crazy, but I think a record of involvement in our schools is a prerequisite for a School Board member. Sitting at the Board table isn’t the place to be learning the names of our schools or our principals.
Wayne Strong, TJ Mertz and James Howard rise far above their opponents for those of us who value School Board members with a history of engagement in local educational issues and a demonstrated record of commitment to our Madison schools and the students we serve.

Notes and links on Ed Hughes and the 2013 Madison School Board election.
I’ve become a broken record vis a vis Madison’s disastrous reading results. The District has been largely operating on auto-pilot for decades. It is as if a 1940’s/1950’s model is sufficient. Spending increases annually (at lower rates in recent years – roughly $15k/student), yet Madison’s disastrous reading results continue, apace.
Four links for your consideration.
When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use. This program continues, despite the results.
3rd Grade Madison School District Reading Proficiency Data (“Achievement Gap Plan”)

The other useful stat buried in the materials is on the second page 3 (= 6th page), showing that the 3rd grade proficiency rate for black students on WKCE, converted to NAEP-scale proficiency, is 6.8%, with the accountability plan targeting this percentage to increase to 23% over one school year. Not sure how this happens when the proficiency rate (by any measure) has been decreasing year over year for quite some time. Because the new DPI school report cards don’t present data on an aggregated basis district-wide nor disaggregated by income and ethnicity by grade level, the stats in the MMSD report are very useful, if one reads the fine print.

Madison Schools Distort Reading Data (2004) by Mark Seidenberg.
How many School Board elections, meetings, votes have taken place since 2005 (a number of candidates were elected unopposed)? How many Superintendents have been hired, retired or moved? Yet, the core structure remains. This, in my view is why we have seen the move to a more diffused governance model in many communities with charters, vouchers and online options.
Change is surely coming. Ideally, Madison should drive this rather than State or Federal requirements. I suspect it will be the latter, in the end, that opens up our monolithic, we know best approach to public education.

And, so it continues



Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Leadership comes in different shapes and sizes. After spending time with 41-year-old Jen Cheatham and attending the community forum on Thursday, I kept thinking back to the winter day 23 years ago when 43-year-old Barry Alvarez was introduced to the Madison community and made his memorable statement about how fans interested in season tickets better get them now because they’d soon be hard to get.
Like Cheatham, Alvarez was an outsider, a rising star in a major program who was ready to take the reins of his own program and run with it. That certainly did not guarantee success, but he proved to have that rare and ineluctable something that inspired his players to raise their game, that drove them to succeed as a team because they couldn’t bear to let their coach or teammates down.
As with Barry, so with Jen. For those of us who have been able to spend time with Jen Cheatham and talk to her about her vision for our Madison schools, it is clear that whatever leadership is, she has it. What we heard time and again from those she’s worked with is that Jen is able to inspire principals and teachers to do their best possible work for the students they serve. But also like Alvarez, she’s doesn’t shy away from tough decisions when they’re necessary.

Related: Madison’s third grade reading results:

“The other useful stat buried in the materials is on the second page 3 (= 6th page), showing that the 3rd grade proficiency rate for black students on WKCE, converted to NAEP-scale proficiency, is 6.8%, with the accountability plan targeting this percentage to increase to 23% over one school year. Not sure how this happens when the proficiency rate (by any measure) has been decreasing year over year for quite some time. Because the new DPI school report cards don’t present data on an aggregated basis district-wide nor disaggregated by income and ethnicity by grade level, the stats in the MMSD report are very useful, if one reads the fine print.”

Madison School Board Needs to Address Search Fiasco:

That being the case, Cheatham would come to this position in a difficult circumstance. As Kaleem Caire, the president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, told the State Journal: “The perception of people in this community when we have one pick, they will always question the value of this woman. That’s not fair to her and not fair to our kids.”
The School Board has presided over a fiasco that board member Ed Hughes admits — in a major understatement — “has not gone as smoothly as we’d like.”
Now the board needs to get its act together.
If would be good if the board were to seek the return of the more than $30,000 in taxpayer money that was allocated for what can only charitably be referred to as a “search.” However, we don’t want the board to squander more tax money on extended legal wrangling.
The board should make it clear that it will not have further dealings with this search firm, as the firm’s vetting of applicants does not meet the basic standards that a responsible board should expect.
Perhaps most importantly, the board should engage in a serious rethink of its approach to searches for top administrators. The Madison Metropolitan School District is a great urban school district. It has challenges, especially with regard to achievement gaps and the overuse of standardized testing, that must be addressed.

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman – August, 2009

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).
Zimman noted that the most recent State of Wisconsin Budget removed the requirement that arbitrators take into consideration revenue limits (a district’s financial condition @17:30) when considering a District’s ability to afford union negotiated compensation packages. The budget also added the amount of teacher preparation time to the list of items that must be negotiated….. “we need to breakthrough the concept that public schools are an expense, not an investment” and at the same time, we must stop looking at schools as a place for adults to work and start treating schools as a place for children to learn.”

On Wisconsin’s New School Report Cards

Alan Borsuk

For the first time, there is a substantial effort to show how much progress students in a school are making from year to year. The reports also go much deeper than before into how schools are doing on closing gaps between student groups. And they measure performance by the tougher standards coming into use pretty much from coast to coast – which means that the percentage of students rated as proficient is down sharply everywhere.
There’s information that should give every school community reasons to feel challenged and, in many cases, chastened. The day after the release, the principal of one of the best schools in Milwaukee told me he took the report on his school as a wake-up call that they weren’t doing as well as they thought. That’s good.
But this is just the start of a process of building better report cards. A big limitation is the current WKCE testing system. Only so much can be done with a test that is not really state-of-the-art and that is given once a year. (I say this as this year’s round gets under way.)

Madison MAP Testing Shows They are Falling Short Too

Melissa Hammann, via a kind reader’s email:

So, the great and powerful Madison School District has started MAP testing and the results are, well, as they should have expected when viewed as a whole. White kids are above national averages and children of color are below them. MAP testing stands for Measures of Academic Progress. They are taken at the computer by each student and the questions are tailored to the individual student. They keep answering questions until they hit the wall of achievement level and the test is ended. Scores are known immediately and areas of strength and areas that need improvement are highlighted FOR EACH KID. It is supposed to be a tool for teachers to use in order to more adequately provide instruction in their classroom. This is called differentiated instruction, or DI in the education vernacular. MAP results are not really effective for national achievement comparison.
OK, I’m going out on a limb here and going to say to the critics of ECSD that we have been doing MAP testing in our district for 5 years now. My newly minted graduate was in the guinea pig group in 7th grade, so I am keyed in on this topic. We can thank Paula Landers for being ahead of the curve on implementing this tool. What seems to escape the writer of the article as well as our district is this. It’s very nice to know how one’s district stacks up as a whole against the state (WKCE) and nation (MAP, NAEP), but what exactly does this data provide in the way of improving individual student achievement? Exactly squat. In this world of inclusive learning, school districts must have tools to provide DI for all levels of learners. If you insist on teaching to some arbitrary mean that various test data indicates as the level of your class, you’ll lose the top 30 and bottom 30 percent of the curve. That’s 60 percent of the students being lost. Used properly, MAP results could be a very effective tool for the teaching arsenal to solve this problem.
Sadly, it is my experience that my kids’ teachers use it to verify what they already know about my kids, that they are above average, and use their MAP data to rationalize being satisfied with mediocre performance the rest of the year “because they are still above their peer average.” I have no data to indicate it is otherwise with other children. In fact, I have spoken to other parents with similar issues. In addition, over 35 percent of the students in the quadrant report that began the school year above their peer group in reading in our district in 10-11 did not reach the achievement goal the MAP test sets for them. It seems that the district thinks it’s OK that a child does not achieve to their potential. I am not of the same opinion.
……
Not only did my kid fail to reach his personal achievement goal set for him by the MAP test (gain less than they projected he should), but he ended 5th grade at a lower achievement level in reading than where he started. This loss of achievement happened while he got straight As all year long in language arts. I began a slow burn that has not stopped. I went to the principal, I went to the teacher and I went to the administrator in charge. “He started out so high that it was hard for him to achieve.” This is an unacceptable response. My child deserves to show some damn achievement after a year of instruction. I don’t care if he started out higher than the mediocre goals you set for the masses. This is thievery, plain and simple. That year, as I recall, the entire grade level failed to meet the 50% level, which basically says they have achieved grade level performance. Interpretation of MAP results is a bit confusing, so go with me here. Anything less than 50% for a grade level indicates they have not achieved a years worth of learning. There has been a shake up in the 5th grade teaching team, but I think it goes beyond individual teachers. If there is an endemic attitude that high achieving students are OK to ignore and an insistence on mistakenly using MAP data to compare to national averages (like the article in the Madison paper did) instead of using it for the amazing tool it could be, there will be no dang improvement in overall achievement.

Related: Madison Schools’ Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Assessment Results Released. Unfortunately, the Madison School District has not published the school by school MAP results, though the information made its way to Matthew DeFour’s Sunday article.

Wisconsin’s Achievement Stagnation: 1992 – 2011



Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

“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



Faces of the achievement gap in Madison: The stories behind the statistics

Pat Dillon:  

In 2010, just five black and 13 Hispanic graduating seniors in the Madison Metropolitan School District were ready for college, according to data from the district and Urban League of Greater Madison. These statistics should make your heart race. If they don’t, and you’re white, you may be suffering from what anti-racism educator Tim Wise calls “the pathology of white privilege.” If you do get it and don’t take action, that is almost worse.
The issue affects all of us and fell a little harder into my lap than it does in most white middle-class families when my daughter told me last summer that I was going to have a biracial grandson. My response? “Not in this school district.”
The dismal academic record of minorities has long been apparent to me, through my own experiences and the stories of others. But many people only hear about the statistics. To help humanize these numbers I asked students and parents who are most affected to share their stories so I could tell them along with mine. The experiences are anecdotal, but the facts speak for themselves.

 Related:

In my view, the status quo approach to Madison’s long lived reading challenges refutes Mr. Hughes assertion that the District is on the right track.  Matt DeFour’s article:

Overall student performance improved in math and dipped slightly in reading across Wisconsin compared with last year, while in Madison scores declined in all tested subjects.

 Perhaps change is indeed coming, from a state level initiative on reading.

Reflections and questions on Wisconsin school test results

Alan Borsuk:

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:

4.1.2012 from Omaha: Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad: Narrowing gap a work in progress in Madison

Joe Dejka:

The push to raise achievement for minority and low-income students in Madison Metropolitan School District remains “a work in progress,” said Superintendent Daniel Nerad.
Work has been done on Nerad’s watch, such as drafting a new strategic plan and a multifaceted, $106 million proposal for programs aimed at shrinking test score gaps between students of different races and income levels.
As for results, Nerad and Madison school board member Ed Hughes say there hasn’t been enough progress.
“We certainly haven’t seen, overall, the kind of improvement that we would like to see in reducing the achievement gap,” Hughes said. “But we need to look at whether the steps are being put in place that would give us some hope or confidence that we will see those gaps narrowing in the future.”
Hughes thinks Madison is on the right track.

Related:

In my view, the status quo approach to Madison’s long lived reading challenges refutes Mr. Hughes assertion that the District is on the right track. Matt DeFour’s article:

Overall student performance improved in math and dipped slightly in reading across Wisconsin compared with last year, while in Madison scores declined in all tested subjects.

Perhaps change is indeed coming, from a state level initiative on reading.
A look at the numbers:
Omaha spends substantially less per student than Madison. The Omaha 2011-2012 adopted budget will spend 468,946,264 for 46,000 students: $10,194.48/student. Madison’s 2011-2012 budget spends $369,394,753 for 24,861 = $14,858.40/student, 31.4% more than Omaha…. Green Bay (Superintendent Nerad’s former position) spent about 10% less than Madison, per student.

Student test scores show Madison lags state in cutting achievement gap

Matthew DeFour:

Madison and Wisconsin are moving in opposite directions in raising achievement levels of black students, according to state test scores released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction.
The percentage of black Madison students scoring proficient or better on the state reading test dropped to the lowest level in six years, while statewide black student reading scores continued to improve.
“The results affirm the work that we need to be doing and are doing to close our unacceptable gaps in achievement,” Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad said.
Overall student performance improved in math and dipped slightly in reading across Wisconsin compared with last year, while in Madison scores declined in all tested subjects.
Madison’s strongest gains were among eighth grade math scores, with the percentage of black students scoring proficient gaining 8 percentage points, Hispanic students gaining 16 percentage points and low-income students gaining 6.5 percentage points over last year.
Overall 77 percent of eighth-graders scored advanced or proficient on math, up from 76 percent last year. In all other grade levels the math scores were down in Madison from last year, whereas statewide the scores were up or the same in each grade level.

Related:

Updated Madison Prep Business and Education Plan and Response to Administrative Analysis

The Urban League of Greater Madison:

Response to P4-5 of the Admin Analysis (No College Going Culture) [Page 23 of BP][Response] MMSD and the Boys & Girls Club have done an excellent job implementing the AVID/TOPS program in MMSD’s four high schools. While AVID is beginning to build a college going culture among the students it serves (students with 2.0 – 3.5 GPAs), more than 60% of African American high school students in MMSD, for example, have GPAs below a 2.0 and therefore do not qualify for AVID. At 380 students, AVID serves just 10% of all students of color enrolled in MMSD high schools.
While the Urban League believes AVID/TOPS should continue to grow to serve more students, it also believes MMSD must invest more resources in programs like Schools of Hope, MSCR, Aspira/Juventud, ACT Prep, Culturally Relevant Teaching and Commonwealth’s middle school careers program.
It must also invest in a system-wide, whole school reform agenda that addresses not only educational skill-building among students, but establishes a college going culture in all of
its schools for all students while addressing curriculum quality, instructional and school innovation, teacher effectiveness, diversity hiring and parent engagement at the same time. ULGM is ready to help MMSD accomplish these goals.
Response to P6 of the Admin Analysis (NO COLLEGE GOING CULTURE) [Page 23 of BP]
[Response] While MMSD offers advanced placement classes, very few African American and Latino students enroll in or successfully complete AP classes by the end of their senior year (see page 5 of the Madison Prep Business Plan). Nearly half of African American and Latino males don’t make it to senior year. Additionally, MMSD states that its students “opt to participate,” meaning, they have a choice of whether or not to take such classes. At Madison Prep, all students will be required to take rigorous, college preparatory courses and all Madison Prep seniors will complete all IB examinations by the end of their senior years, which are very rigorous assessments.
E. Response to questions from P7 of Admin Analysis (STUDENT PERFORMANCE MEASURES) [Page 29 of BP]
[Response] The Urban League acknowledges that WKCE scores of proficient are not adequate to predict success for college and career readiness. In the Madison Prep business plan, WKCE is not mentioned; instead, ULGM mentions “Wisconsin’s state assessment system.” It is ULGM’s understanding that by the time Madison Prep reaches the fifth and final year of its first charter school contract, Wisconsin will have implemented all of the new standards and assessments affiliated with the Common Core State Standards that it adopted last year. ULGM anticipates that these assessments will be more rigorous and will have an appropriate measurement for “proficiency” that is consistent with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and work. Additionally, Madison Prep will provide several supports to assist students below proficiency. These strategies are explained in Madison Prep’s business and education plans.
F. Response to Recommendation on P7 of Admin Analysis (STUDENT PERFORMANCE MEASURES) [Page 29 of BP]
[Response] Madison Prep will adjust its goals in its charter school contract to be commensurate with existing state and district accountability standards. However, to move a school whose student body will likely have a sizeable number of young people who are significantly behind academically to 100% proficiency in one academic year will require a miracle sent from heaven.

Related: Madison School District Administrative Analysis of the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School; WKCE Rhetoric.

A Capitol Conversation on Wisconsin’s Reading Challenges

UW-Madison Professor Mark Seidenberg and I had an informative conversation with two elected officials at the Capitol recently.
I am thankful for Mark’s time and the fact that both Luther Olsen and Steve Kestell along with staff members took the time to meet. I also met recently with Brett Hulsey and hope to meet with more elected officials, from both parties.
The topic du jour was education, specifically the Governor’s Read to Lead task force.
Mark kindly shared this handout:

My name is Mark Seidenberg, Hilldale Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, seidenberg@wisc.edu, http://lcnl.wisc.edu. I have studied how reading works, how children learn to read, reading disabilities, and the brain bases of reading for over 30 years. I am a co-author of a forthcoming report from the National Research Council (National Academy of Sciences) on low literacy among older adolescents and adults. I’m writing a general audience book about reading research and educational practices.
We have a literacy problem: about 30% of the US (and WI) population reads at a “basic” or “below basic” level. Literacy levels are particularly low among poor and minority individuals. The identification of this problem does not rest on any single test (e.g., NAEP, WKCE, OECD). Our literacy problem arises from many causes, some of which are not easy to address by legislative fiat. However, far more could be done in several important areas.
1. How teachers are taught. In Wisconsin as in much of the US, prospective teachers are not exposed to modern research on how children develop, learn, and think. Instead, they are immersed in the views of educational theorists such as Lev Vygotsky (d. 1934) and John Dewey (d. 1952). Talented, highly motivated prospective teachers are socialized into beliefs about children that are not informed by the past 50 years of basic research in cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience.
A vast amount is known about reading in particular, ranging from what your eyes do while reading to how people comprehend documents to what causes reading disabilities. However, there is a gulf between Education and Science, and so this research is largely ignored in teacher training and curriculum development.
2. How children are taught. There continue to be fruitless battles over how beginning readers should be taught, and how to insure that comprehension skills continue to develop through middle and high school. Teachers rely on outdated beliefs about how children learn, and how reading works. As a result, for many children, learning to read is harder than it should be. We lose many children because of how they are taught. This problem does NOT arise from “bad teachers”; there is a general, systematic problem related to teacher education and training in the US.
3. Identification of children at risk for reading failures. Some children are at risk for reading and school failure because of developmental conditions that interfere with learning to read. Such children can be identified at young ages (preschool, kindergarten) using relatively simple behavioral measures. They can also be helped by effective early interventions that target basic components of reading such as vocabulary and letter-sound knowledge. The 30% of the US population that cannot read adequately includes a large number of individuals whose reading/learning impairments were undiagnosed and untreated.
Recommendations: Improve teacher education. Mechanism: change the certification requirements for new teachers, as has been done in several other states. Certification exams must reflect the kinds of knowledge that teachers need, including relevant research findings from cognitive science and neuroscience. Instruction in these areas would then need to be provided by schools of education or via other channels. In-service training courses could be provided for current teachers (e.g., as on-line courses).
Children who are at risk for reading and schooling failures must be identified and supported at young ages. Although it is difficult to definitively confirm a reading/learning disability in children at young ages (e.g., 4-6) using behavioral, neuroimaging, or genetic measures, it is possible to identify children at risk, most of whom will develop reading difficulties unless intervention occurs, via screening that involves simple tests of pre-reading skills and spoken language plus other indicators. Few children just “grow out of” reading impairments; active intervention is required.

I am cautiously optimistic that we may see an improvement in Wisconsin’s K-12 curricular standards.
Related: Excellence in Education explains Florida’s reading reforms and compares Florida’s NAEP progress with Wisconsin’s at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting and www.wisconsin2.org.

July 29 Wisconsin Read to Lead task force meeting

Julie Gocey, via email:

The fourth meeting of the Governor’s Read to Lead task force took place in Milwaukee on Friday, July 29. The meeting was filmed by Wisconsin Eye, but we have not seen it offered yet through their website. We will send out a notice when that occurs. As always, we encourage you to watch and draw your own conclusions.
Following is a synopsis of the meeting, which centered on reading improvement success in Florida and previously-discussed task force topics (teacher preparation, licensing, professional development, screening/intervention, early childhood). In addition, Superintendent Evers gave an update on activity within DPI. The discussion of the impact of societal factors on reading achievement was held over to the next meeting, as was further revisiting of early childhood issues.

In addition to this summary, you can access Chan Stroman’s Eduphilia tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/eduphilia
Opening: Governor Walker welcomed everyone and stressed the importance of this conversation on reading. Using WKCE data, which has been criticized nationally and locally for years as being derived from low standards, the Governor stated that 80% of Wisconsin students are proficient or advanced in reading, and he is seeking to serve the other 20%. The NAEP data, which figured prominently in the presentation of the guest speakers, tell a very different story. Superintendent Evers thanked the task force members and indicated that this is all about “connecting the dots” and putting all of the “puzzle pieces” together. The work of this task force will impact the work going on in other education-focused committees.
The Florida Story: Guest speakers were Patricia Levesque, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, and Mary Laura Bragg, the director of Florida’s statewide reading initiative, Just Read, Florida! from 2001 to 2006.
In a series of slides, Levesque compared Wisconsin, Florida, and national performance on the NAEP reading test over the past decade. Despite challenges in terms of English language learners, a huge percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, and a minority-majority demographic, Florida has moved from the scraping the bottom on the NAEP to the top group of states. Over the same time period, Wisconsin has plummeted in national ranking, and our students now score below the national average in all subgroups for which NAEP data is disaggregated. 10 points on the NAEP scale is roughly equivalent to one grade level in performance, and Florida has moved from two grade levels below Wisconsin to 1/2 grade level above. For a full discussion of Wisconsin’s NAEP performance, see our website, http://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org.
Levesque and Bragg also described the components of the reading initiative in Florida, which included grading all schools from A to F, an objective test-based promotion policy from third to fourth grade, required state-approved reading plans in each district, trained reading coaches in schools, research assistance from the Florida Center for Reading Research, required individual student intervention plans for struggling students, universal K-2 screening for reading problems, improved licensure testing for teachers and principals, the creation of a reading endorsement for teaching licenses, and on-line professional development available to all teachers. As noted above, achievement has gone up dramatically, the gap between demographic groups has narrowed, early intervention is much more common, and third grade retention percentages continue to fall. The middle school performance is now rising as those children who received early intervention in elementary school reach that level. Those students have not yet reached high school, and there is still work to be done there. To accomplish all this, Florida leveraged federal funds for Title 1 and 2 and IDEA, requiring that they be spent for state-approved reading purposes. The Governor also worked actively with business to create private/public partnerships supporting reading. Just Read, Florida! was able to engineer a statewide conference for principals that was funded from vendor fees. While Florida is a strong local control state, reading is controlled from the state level, eliminating the need for local curriculum directors to research and design reading plans without the resources or manpower to do so. Florida also cut off funding to university professors who refused to go along with science-based reading instruction and assessment.
Florida is now sharing its story with other states, and offering assistance in reading plan development, as well as their screening program (FAIR assessment system) and their online professional development, which cost millions to develop. Levesque invited Wisconsin to join Indiana and other states at a conference in Florida this fall.
Questions for, or challenges to, the presenters came from three task force members.

  • Rachel Lander asked about the reading coaches, and Bragg responded that they were extensively trained by the state office, beginning with Reading First money. They are in the classroom modeling for teachers and also work with principals on understanding data and becoming building reading leaders. The coaches now have an association that has acquired a presence in the state.
  • Linda Pils stated her belief that Wisconsin outperforms Florida at the middle school level, and that we have higher graduation rates than Florida. She cited opinions that third grade retention has some immediate effect, but the results are the same or better for non-retained students later, and that most retained students will not graduate from high school. She also pointed out Florida’s class size reduction requirement, and suggested that the NAEP gains came from that. Levesque explained that the retention studies to which Pils was referring were from other states, where retention decisions were made subjectively by teachers, and there was no requirement for science-based individual intervention plans. The gains for retained students in Florida are greater than for matched students who are not retained, and the gains persist over time. Further, retention did not adversely affect graduation rates. In fact, graduation rates have increased, and dropout rates have declined. The University of Arkansas is planning to do a study of Florida retention. The class size reduction policy did not take effect in Florida until last year, and a Harvard study concluded that it had no effect on student reading achievement. Task force member Steve Dykstra pointed out that you cannot compare the NAEP scores from two states without considering the difference in student demographics. Wisconsin’s middle school scores benefit from the fact that we have a relative abundance of white students who are not on free/reduced lunch. Our overall average student score in middle school may be higher than Florida, but when we compare similar cohorts from both states, Florida is far ahead.
  • Tony Pedriana asked what kinds of incentives have been put in place for higher education, principals, etc. to move to a science-based system of instruction. The guests noted that when schools are graded, reading performance receives double weight in the formula. They also withheld funding for university programs that were not science-based.

DPI Update: Superintendent Evers indicated that DPI is looking at action in fours areas: teacher licensure, the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, the use of a screener to detect reading problems, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

  • The committee looking at licensing is trying to decide whether they should recommend an existing, off-the-shelf competency exam, or revise the exam they are currently requiring (Praxis 2). He did not indicate who is on the committee or what existing tests they were looking at. In the past, several members of the task force have recommended that Wisconsin use the Foundations of Reading test given in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
  • DPI is revising the WMELS to correct definitions and descriptions of phonological and phonemic awareness and phonics. The changes will align the WMELS with both the Report of the National Reading Panel and the Common Core State Standards. Per the suggestion of Eboni Howard, a guest speaker at the last meeting, they will get an outside opinion on the WMELS when they are finished. Evers did not indicate who is doing this work.
  • DPI is looking at the possibility of using PALS screening or some other tool recommended by the National RTI Center to screen students in grades K-2 or K-3. Evers previously mentioned that this committee had been meeting for 6-7 months, but he did not indicate who is on it.
  • Evers made reference to communication that was circulated this week (by Dr. Dan Gustafson and John Humphries) that expressed concern over the method in which DPI is implementing the Common Core. He stated that districts have been asking DPI for help in implementing the CC, and they want to provide districts with a number of resources. One of those is the model curriculum being developed by CESA 7. DPI is looking at it to see how it could help the state move forward, but no final decision has yet been made.

Task force member Pam Heyde, substituting for Marcia Henry, suggested that it would be better to look at what Florida is doing rather than start from ground zero looking at guidelines. Patricia Levesque confirmed that Florida was willing to assist other states, and invited Wisconsin to join a meeting of state reading commissioners in October.
Teacher Preparation: The discussion centered around what needs to change in teacher preparation programs, and how to fit this into a four-year degree.
Steve Dykstra said that Texas has looked at this issue extensively. Most schools need three courses to cover reading adequately, but it is also important to look at the texts that are used in the courses. He referenced a study by Joshi that showed most of the college texts to be inadequate.
Dawnene Hassett, UW-Madison literacy professor in charge of elementary teacher reading preparation, was invited to participate in this part of the discussion. She indicated we should talk in terms of content knowledge, not number of credits. In a couple of years, teachers will have to pass a Teacher Performance Assessment in order to graduate. This was described as a metacognitive exercise using student data. In 2012-13, UW-Madison will change its coursework, combining courses in some of the arts, and dropping some of the pedagogical, psychological offerings.
Tony Pedriana said he felt schools of education had fallen down on teaching content derived from empirical studies.
Hassett said schools teach all five “pillars” of reading, but they may not be doing it well enough. She said you cannot replicate classroom research, so you need research “plus.”
Pils was impressed with the assistance the FCRR gives to classroom teachers regarding interventions that work. She also said spending levels were important.
Dykstra asked Mary Laura Bragg if she had worked with professors who thought they were in alignment with the research, but really weren’t.
Bragg responded that “there’s research, and then there’s research.” They had to educate people on the difference between “research” from vendors and empirical research, which involves issues of fidelity and validation with different groups of students.
Levesque stated that Florida increased reading requirements for elementary candidates from 3 to 6 credits, and added a 3 credit requirement for secondary candidates. Colleges were required to fit this in by eliminating non-content area pedagogy courses.
Kathy Champeau repeated a concern from earlier meetings that teacher candidates need the opportunity to practice their new knowledge in a classroom setting, or they will forget it.
Hassett hoped the Teacher Performance Assessment would help this. The TPA would probably require certain things to be included in the teacher candidate’s portfolio.
Governor Walker said that the key to the effectiveness of Florida’s retention policy was the intervention provided to the students. He asked what they did to make sure intervention was successful.
Levesque replied that one key was reading coaches in the classroom. Also, district reading plans, individual intervention plans, student academies, etc. all need to be approved by the state.
There was consensus that there should be a difference in reading requirements for elementary vs. secondary teachers. There was no discussion of preparation for reading teachers, reading specialists, or special education teachers.
Licensing: The discussion centered around what teacher standards need to be tested.
Dykstra suggested that the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, written by Louisa Moats, et al, and published by the International Dyslexia Association in 2010, would be good teacher standards, and the basis for a teacher competency exam. There was no need for DPI to spend the next year discussing and inventing new teacher standards.
Champeau said that the International Reading Association also has standards.
Pedriana asked if those standards are based on research.
Dykstra suggested that the task force look at the two sets of standards side-by-side and compare them.
Professional Development: The facilitators looked for input on how professional development for practicing teachers should be targeted. Should the state target struggling teachers, schools, or districts for professional development?
Rep. Jason Fields felt all three needed to be targeted.
Heyde asked Levesque for more details on how Wisconsin could do professional development, when we often hear there is no money.
Levesque provided more detail on the state making reading a priority, building public/private partnerships, and being more creative with federal grant money (e.g., the 20% of each grant that is normally carved out by the state for administration). There should be a clear reading plan (Florida started with just two people running their initiative, and after a decade only has eight people), and all the spending should align with the plan to be effective. You cannot keep sending money down the hole. Additional manpower was provided by the provision that all state employees would get one paid hour per week to volunteer on approved reading projects in schools, and also by community service requirements for high school students.
Bragg suggested using the online Florida training modules, and perhaps combining them with modules from Louisiana.
Dykstra also suggested taking advantage of existing training, including LETRS, which was made widely available in Massachusetts. He also stressed the importance of professional development for principals, coaches, and specialists.
Bragg pointed out that many online training modules are free, or provided for a nominal charge that does not come close to what it would cost Wisconsin to develop its own professional development.
Lander said there were many Wisconsin teachers who don’t need the training, and it should not be punitive.
Champeau suggested that Florida spends way more money on education that Wisconsin, based on information provided by the NAEP.
Levesque clarified that Florida actually is below the national average in cost per student. The only reason they spend more than Wisconsin is that they have more students.
Rep. Steve Kestell stated that teachers around the entire state have a need for professional development, and it is dangerous to give it only to the districts that are performing the worst.
Sarah Archibald (sitting in for Sen. Luther Olsen) said it would be good to look at the value added in districts across the state when trying to identify the greatest needs for professional development. The new statewide information system should provide us with some of this value added information, but not at a classroom teacher level.
Evers commented that the state could require new teacher Professional Development Plans to include or be focused on reading.
Pils commented that districts can have low and high performing schools, so it is not enough to look at district data.
Champeau said that administrators also need this professional development. They cannot evaluate teachers if they do not have the knowledge themselves.
Dykstra mentioned a Florida guidebook for principals with a checklist to help them. He is concerned about teachers who develop PDP’s with no guidance, and spend a lot of time and money on poor training and learning. There is a need for a clearinghouse for professional development programs.
Screening/Intervention: One of the main questions here was whether the screening should be universal using the same tools across the state.
Champeau repeated a belief that there are districts who are doing well with the screening they are doing, and they should not be required to change or add something new.
Dykstra responded that we need comparable data from every school to use value added analysis, so a universal tool makes sense. He also said there was going to be a lot of opposition to this, given the statements against screening that were issued when Rep. Keith Ripp introduced legislation on this topic in the last biennium. He felt the task force has not seen any screener in enough detail to recommend a particular one at this time.
Heyde said we need a screener that screens for the right things.
Pils agreed with Dykstra and Heyde. She mentioned that DIBELS is free and doesn’t take much time.
Michele Erickson asked if a task force recommendation would turn into a mandate. She asked if Florida used a universal screener.
Levesque replied that Florida initially used DIBELS statewide, and then the FCRR developed the FAIR assessments for them. The legislature in Florida mandated the policy of universal kindergarten screening that also traces students back to their pre-K programs to see which ones are doing a better job. Wisconsin could purchase the FAIR assessments from Florida.
Archilbald suggested phasing in screening if we could not afford to do it all at once.
Evers supports local control, but said there are reasons to have a universal screener for data systems, to inform college programs, and to implement professional development.
Lander asked what screening information we could get from the WKCE.
Evers responded that the WKCE doesn’t start unitl third grade.
Dykstra said we need a rubric about screening, and who needs what type and how often.
Pedriana said student mobility is another reason for a universal screener.
There was consensus that early screening is important. Certainly by 4K or 5K, but even at age three if a system could be established. Possibilities mentioned were district-run screenings or pediatrician screenings.
Walker reminded the task force that it only makes sense to screen if you have the ability to intervene with something.
Mara Brown wasn’t sure that a universal screener would tell her anything more about her students than she already knows.
Levesque said she could provide a screening roadmap rubric for the task force.
No one on the task force had suggestions for specific interventions. The feeling was that it is more important to have a well-trained teacher. Both Florida and Oregon started evaluating and rating interventions, but stopped because they got bogged down. Wisconsin must also be careful about evaluations by What Works Clearinghouse, which has some problems.
Pedriana asked if the task force is prepared to endorse a model of instruction based on science, where failure is not an option.
The facilitator said this discussion would have to wait for later.
Early Childhood: The task force agreed that YoungStar should include more specific literacy targets.
Rep. Kestell felt that some district are opening 4K programs primarily for added revenue, and that there is wide variability in quality. There is a need to spend more time on this and decide what 4K should look like.
Evers said we should use the Common Core and work backward to determine what needs to be done in 4K.
Wrap-Up: Further discussion of early childhood will be put over to the next meeting, as will the societal issues and accountability. A meeting site has not yet been set, but Governor Walker indicted he liked moving around the state. The Governor’s aides will follow up as to locations and specific agenda. The next meeting will be Thursday, August 25. All meetings are open to the public.

Related: An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards” and how does Wisconsin Compare? www.wisconsin2.org.
Much more on Wisconsin’s Read to Lead Task Force, here.

An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards”

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.
An Open Letter to the Read-To-Lead Task Force
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:
4TH GRADE READING SCORES, 2007-08 WKCE-CRT,
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.
I am mystified as to why, after years of making little headway on topics related to reading, DPI is now making major decisions at a breakneck pace. Is this an effort to circumvent the Read-To-Lead Task Force by instituting new policies before the group has finished its scheduled meetings? Superintendent Evers, why haven’t you shared anything about the CESA-7 curriculum with them? Have you already made your decision, or are you prepared to show the Read-To-Lead that there is a deliberative process underway to find a true model curriculum?
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 Academic Standards

Wisconsin Teacher Content Knowledge Requirement Comparison

Time for year-round school in Madison

Chris Rickert:

But after learning of the Madison School District’s failure to adequately boost test scores under No Child Left Behind, I had to wonder: Heat or no heat, what cause for picnicking is there in the advent of a nearly three-month long break from formal learning for brains that, in their youth, are veritable sponges for knowledge?
I’m less worried about my children, who have a standard pair of educated, middle-class parents. They probably won’t make major academic strides over the summer, but they won’t lose much ground or — worse — fill their free time picking up bad habits.
But here’s the thing about the Madison district: Increasingly, its students aren’t like my kids.
They are like the kids who live in the traditionally lower-income, higher-crime Worthington Park neighborhood. These and the kids from the tonier Schenk-Atwood neighborhood where we live share a school, but they don’t necessarily share the same social, educational and financial advantages.

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here and “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”. It certainly is long past time for a new academic benchmark… Wisconsin students should participate in global examinations, such as TIMSS, among others.

Voucher schools to expand amid questions about their performance

Susan Troller:

If Gov. Scott Walker’s budget is passed with recommendations approved Thursday by the Joint Committee on Finance, there will be more students in more voucher schools in more Wisconsin communities.
But critics of school voucher programs are hoping legislators will look long and hard at actual student achievement benefits before they vote to use tax dollars to send students to private schools. They also suggest that studies that have touted benefits of voucher programs should be viewed with a careful eye, and that claims that graduation rates for voucher schools exceed 90 percent are not just overly optimistic, but misleading.
“The policy decisions we are making today should not be guided by false statistics being propagated by people with a financial interest in the continuation and expansion of vouchers nationwide,” wrote state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, in a news release Friday.
Pope-Roberts is particularly critical of statistics that school choice lobbyists and pro-voucher legislators are using that claim that 94 percent of school voucher students graduated from high school in four years.
It’s good news, she says, but it tells a very selective story about a relatively small subset of students who were studied. That graduation rate reflects only the graduation rate for students who actually remained in the voucher program for all four years: Just 318 of the 801 students who began the program stayed with it.

Related:

Per student spending differences between voucher and traditional public schools is material, particularly during tight economic times.

UW Ed School Dean and WPRI President on the Recent School Choice Results

Julie Underwood:

The release of the results of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the standardized test that every state public school is required to give, is a rite of spring for Wisconsin schools.
Distributed every year, the WKCEs provide educators, parents and community members with information about how well schools and districts are performing, broken down by subject and grade level.
The WKCEs are used alongside other measures to determine where schools are falling short and what is working well. For parents with many different types of educational options from which to choose, the WKCEs allow them to make informed choices about their child’s school. For taxpayers, the tests provide a level of transparency and demonstrate a return on investment.
But while state law requires all public schools to give the WKCEs, not all publicly funded schools are required do to so. Since its inception 20 years ago, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has been virtually without any kind of meaningful accountability measures in place. Choice schools have not been required to have students take the WKCEs. That is, until this school year.

George Lightbourn:

We have all done it at one time or another — opened our mouth before engaging our brain.
State Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, just had one of those moments. In reacting to the news that, on average, students attending schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program performed about the same or slightly below students in Milwaukee Public Schools, she said taxpayers are being “bamboozled” and the program is “a disservice to Milwaukee students.”
Whoa! Had she taken a moment to think before she spoke, here are a few things that should have occurred to her:
• Those private schools are performing about as well at educating Milwaukee children as the public schools — at half the cost. Public funding for each child in the choice program costs taxpayers $6,442 while each child in Milwaukee Public Schools receives taxpayer support of over $15,000. If all of the 21,000 choice students moved back into Milwaukee Public Schools, that would require a $74 million increase in local property taxes across the state, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Much more, here.

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.

Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

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.

The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

Serious ideas from State of Education speech. Seriously.

Susan Troller:

For instance, he’s the only state elected official to actually and seriously float a proposal to repair the broken state funding system for schools. He promises the proposal for his “Funding for Our Future” will be ready to introduce to lawmakers this fall and will include details on its impact on the state’s 424 school districts.
Evers also is interested in the potential of charter schools. Let’s be open and supportive about education alternatives, he says, but mindful of what’s already working well in public schools.
And he says qualified 11th and 12th graders should be allowed to move directly on to post-secondary education or training if they wish. Dual enrollment opportunites for high school age students attending college and technical schools will require a shift in thinking that shares turf and breaks down barriers, making seamless education — pre-K through post-secondary — a reality instead of some distant dream, according to Evers.
As to Evers’ comments on teacher testing, he joins a national conversation that has been sparked, in part, by the Obama administration as well as research that shows the single universal element in improved student performance is teacher quality. We recently featured a story about concerns over teacher evaluation based on student performance and test scores, and the issue has been a potent topic elsewhere, as well.

The proof, as always, is in the pudding, or substance.
Melissa Westbrook wrote a very useful and timely article on education reform:

I think many ed reformers rightly say, “Kids can’t wait.” I agree.
There is nothing more depressing than realizing that any change that might be good will likely come AFTER your child ages out of elementary, middle or high school. Not to say that we don’t do things for the greater good or the future greater good but as a parent, you want for your child now. Of course, we are told that change needs to happen now but the reality is what it might or might not produce in results is years off. (Which matters not to Bill Gates or President Obama because their children are in private schools.)
All this leads to wonder about our teachers and what this change will mean. A reader, Lendlees, passed on a link to a story that appeared in the LA Times about their teacher ratings. (You may recall that the LA Times got the classroom test scores for every single teacher in Los Angeles and published them in ranked order.)

Susan Troller notes that Wisconsin’s oft criticized WKCE (on which Madison’s value added assessment program is based) will be replaced – by 2014:

Evers also promised that the much maligned Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, used to test student proficiency in 3rd through 6th, 8th and 10th grades, is on its way out. By 2014, there will be a much better assessment of student proficiency to take its place, Evers says, and he should know. He’s become a leading figure in the push for national core education standards, and for effective means for measuring student progress.

A Look at Madison’s Use of Value Added Assessment

Lynn Welch:

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.

Ouch! Madison schools are ‘weak’? and College Station’s School District

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

Another national magazine says Madison is one of the nation’s best cities in which to raise a family.
That’s something to celebrate.
But Kiplinger’s, a monthly business and personal finance periodical, also raps ours city schools as “weak” in its latest edition.
That’s troubling.
“Madison city schools are weak relative to the suburban schools,” the magazine wrote in its analysis of the pros and cons of living here with children.
Really?
The magazine apparently used average test scores to reach its conclusion. By that single measure, yes, Dane County’s suburban schools tend to do better.
But the city schools have more challenges – higher concentrations of students in poverty, more students who speak little or no English when they enroll, more students with special needs.
None of those factors should be excuses. Yet they are reality.
And Madison, in some ways, is ahead of the ‘burbs. It consistently graduates some of the highest-achieving students in the state. It offers far more kinds of classes and clubs. Its diverse student population can help prepare children for an increasingly diverse world.

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes compares WKCE scores, comments on the Kiplinger and Wisconsin State Journal article and wonders if anyone would move from Madison to College Station, TX [map], which Kiplinger’s ranked above our local $15,241 2009/2010 per student public schools.
I compared Madison, WI to College Station, TX using a handy Census Bureau report.

93.8% of College Station residents over 25 are high school graduates, a bit higher than Madison’s 92.4%.
58.1% of College Station residents over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to Madison’s 48.2%

Madison does have a higher median household and per capita income along with a population about three times that of College Station.
Turning to the public school districts, readers might be interested in having a look at both websites: the College Station Independent School District and the Madison Metropolitan School District. 75% of College Station students took the ACT (average score: 22.6) while 67% of Madison students took the exam and achieved a composite score of 24.2.
College Station publishes a useful set of individual school report cards, which include state and national test results along with attendance and dropout data.
College Station’s 2009-2010 budget was $93,718.470, supporting 9,712 students = $9,649.76 per student. . They also publish an annual check register, allowing interested citizens to review expenditures.
Madison’s 2009-2010 budget was $370,287,471 for 24,295 students = $15,241 per student, 57.9% higher than College Station.
College Station’s A and M Consolidated High School offers 22 AP classes while Madison East offers 12, Memorial 25 (8 of which are provided by Florida Virtual…), LaFollette 13 and West 8.
College Station’s “student profile” notes that the District is 59.3% white, 31.4% are economically disadvantaged while 10.3% are in talented and gifted.
Texas’s 2010 National Merit Semifinalist cut score was 216 while Wisconsin’s was 207. College Station’s high school had 16 National Merit Semi-Finalists (the number might be 40 were College Station the same size as Madison and perhaps still higher with Wisconsin’s lower cut score) during the most recent year while Madison’s high schools had 57.

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

Jennifer Medina:

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

Alan Borsuk:

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.

MMSD Reading and the Poverty Achievement Gap

“The research around early reading intervention illuminates the complex decision making required to meet individual student literacy needs. There seems to be no one right answer, no quick fix for success. While recent research brings up questions as to the cost/benefit of Reading Recovery, what other supports and options are available? One thing is certain, … Continue reading MMSD Reading and the Poverty Achievement Gap

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use

via a kind reader’s email: Sue Abplanalp, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education, Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning, Mary Jo Ziegler, Language Arts/Reading Coordinator, Teaching & Learning, Jennie Allen, Title I, Ellie Schneider, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader [2.6MB PDF]:

Background The Board of Education requested a thorough and neutral review of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Reading Recovery program, In response to the Board request, this packet contains a review of Reading Recovery and related research, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Reading Recovery student data analysis, and a matrix summarizing three options for improving early literacy intervention. Below please find a summary of the comprehensive research contained in the Board of Education packet. It is our intent to provide the Board of Education with the research and data analysis in order to facilitate discussion and action toward improved effectiveness of early literacy instruction in MMSD.
Reading Recovery Program Description The Reading Recovery Program is an intensive literacy intervention program based on the work of Dr. Marie Clay in New Zealand in the 1970’s, Reading Recovery is a short-term, intensive literacy intervention for the lowest performing first grade students. Reading Recovery serves two purposes, First, it accelerates the literacy learning of our most at-risk first graders, thus narrowing the achievement gap. Second, it identifies children who may need a long-term intervention, offering systematic observation and analysis to support recommendations for further action.
The Reading Recovery program consists of an approximately 20-week intervention period of one-to-one support from a highly trained Reading Recovery teacher. This Reading Recovery instruction is in addition to classroom literacy instruction delivered by the classroom teacher during the 90-minute literacy block. The program goal is to provide the lowest performing first grade students with effective reading and writing strategies allowing the child to perform within the average range of a typical first grade classroom after a successful intervention period. A successful intervention period allows the child to be “discontinued” from the Reading Recovery program and to function proficiently in regular classroom literacy instruction.
Reading Recovery Program Improvement Efforts The national Reading Recovery data reports the discontinued rate for first grade students at 60%. In 2008-09, the discontinued rate for MMSD students was 42% of the students who received Reading Recovery. The Madison Metropolitan School District has conducted extensive reviews of Reading Recovery every three to four years. In an effort to increase the discontinued rate of Reading Recovery students, MMSD worked to improve the program’s success through three phases.

Reading recovery will be discussed at Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting.
Related:

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg: Madison schools distort reading data:

    In her column, Belmore also emphasized the 80 percent of the children who are doing well, but she provided additional statistics indicating that test scores are improving at the five target schools. Thus she argued that the best thing is to stick with the current program rather than use the Reading First money.
    Belmore has provided a lesson in the selective use of statistics. It’s true that third grade reading scores improved at the schools between 1998 and 2004. However, at Hawthorne, scores have been flat (not improving) since 2000; at Glendale, flat since 2001; at Midvale/ Lincoln, flat since 2002; and at Orchard Ridge they have improved since 2002 – bringing them back to slightly higher than where they were in 2001.
    In short, these schools are not making steady upward progress, at least as measured by this test.
    Belmore’s attitude is that the current program is working at these schools and that the percentage of advanced/proficient readers will eventually reach the districtwide success level. But what happens to the children who have reading problems now? The school district seems to be writing them off.
    So why did the school district give the money back? Belmore provided a clue when she said that continuing to take part in the program would mean incrementally ceding control over how reading is taught in Madison’s schools (Capital Times, Oct 16). In other words, Reading First is a push down the slippery slope toward federal control over public education.

    also, Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy.

  • Jeff Henriques references a Seidenberg paper on the importance of phonics, published in Psychology Review.
  • Ruth Robarts letter to Isthmus on the Madison School District’s reading progress:

    Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
    I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
    Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.

  • Madison teacher Barb Williams letter to Isthmus on Madison School District reading scores:

    I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color–a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district’s preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)
    Though the scripted lessons typical of most direct instruction programs are offensive to many teachers (and is one reason given that the district rejected the Reading First grant) the irony is that an elementary science program (Foss) that the district is now pushing is also scripted as is Reading Recovery and Everyday Math, all elementary curricula blessed by the district.
    I wonder if we might close the achievement gap further if teachers in the district were encouraged to use an approach to reading that emphasizes explicit and systematic phonics instruction for those kids who need it. Maybe we’d have fewer kids in special education and more children of color scoring in the proficient and advanced levels of the third grade reading test.

Madison School District Strategic Plan: Nirvana by 2014/2015?

The Madison School Board recently passed the District’s Strategic Plan. Superintendent Dan Nerad has now published a draft document outlining performance measures for the plan (this is positive). The 600K PDF document is well worth reading. Mr. Nerad’s proposed performance measures rely on the oft criticized – for its lack of rigor – state exam, the WKCE. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently stated that “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum“.
A few highlights from the 600K PDF document:

Related:

Discussing these data is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, use of the WKCE does not instill much confidence, from my perspective.

via “Some States Drop Testing Bar” by John Hechinger.
Happy Halloween!

Wisconsin’s New K-12 Academic Standards

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin education officials are aiming to move into the national mainstream by setting firmer standards for what children should learn in school and finding better ways to measure achievement.
A new report from the American Diploma Project praises Wisconsin’s proposed new set of standards for high school English and math. The report is the latest of several indications that changes are being made when it comes to student expectations – and that others are noticing.
Wisconsin built a reputation in recent years for having loosely written state standards. The state was viewed as setting the bar about as low as anywhere in the country in determining if students were proficient, and taking too rosy an approach to deciding whether schools were getting adequate results.
Several national groups, some of them with conservative orientations but others harder to peg politically, criticized the state for its softness.
The report from the Diploma Project, issued last week, says that in revising its statement of what students are expected to learn in English and math, “Wisconsin has taken an important step to better prepare young people for success in post-secondary education and in their careers.”

Much more on the WKCE here.

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

Mark C. Schug, Ph.D., M. Scott Niederjohn, Ph.D.:

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.

Alan Borsuk has more:

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.

Wisconsin’s Latest State K-12 Test Results, and Related Criticism

Gayle Worland:

Across Wisconsin, educators like Hensgen are part of a growing chorus to reassess the way the state assesses students. Currently, teachers and districts wait five months for WKCE results, so they have little time to react to the findings and adjust their curriculum. The tests eat into a week of class time and are based on standards that, critics say, are too low to give parents and teachers a clear picture of how students measure up globally.
“It’s widely agreed that the WKCE is a really lousy test that measures lame standards,” said Phil McDade, a departing member of the Monona Grove School Board. “The bigger issue to me in Wisconsin is that there’s a sense of self-satisfaction with our school districts, that we’re doing fine, that we’re Lake Wobegon, that everybody here’s above average.”
The Department of Public Instruction commissioned a state task force on the issue last fall and is reviewing the group’s recommendations, said Michael Thompson, executive assistant to the state superintendent of schools. The state’s current testing contract lasts at least another two years.

Alan Borsuk has more.
“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”
The ACT Explore test was mentioned in Gayle Worland’s article.

Response to the Madison School District’s Math Task Force Recommendations

To: comment@madison.k12.wi.us
Cc: askey@math.wisc.edu
There are a number of points in the Summary of Administrative Response to MMSD Mathematics Task Force Recommendations which should be made. As a mathematician, let me just comment on comments on Recommendation 11. There are other comments which could be made, but I have a limited amount of time at present.
The first question I have is in the first paragraph. “One aspect of the balanced approach is represented in the four block approach to structuring mathematics lessons. The four blocks include Problem Solving, Number Work, Fluency and Maintenance and Inspecting Equations.” There is a missing comma, since it is not clear whether Maintenance goes with the previous word or the last two. However, in either case, “Inspecting Equations” is a strange phrase to use. I am not sure what it means, and when a mathematician who has read extensively in school mathematics does not understand a phrase, something is wrong. You might ask Brian Sniff, who seems to have written this report based on one comment he made at the Monday meeting, what he means by this.
In the next paragraph, there are the following statements about the math program used in MMSD. “The new edition [of Connected Math Project] includes a greater emphasis on practice problems similar to those in traditional middle and high school textbooks. The new edition still remains focused on problem-centered instruction that promotes deep conceptual understanding.” First, I dislike inflated language. It usually is an illustration of a lack of knowledge. We cannot hope for “deep conceptual understanding”, in school mathematics, and Connected Math falls far short of what we want students to learn and understand in many ways. There are many examples which could be given and a few are mentioned in a letter I sent to the chair of a committee which gave an award to two of the developers of Connected Mathematics Project. Much of my letter to Phil Daro is given below.
The final paragraph for Recommendation 11 deals with high school mathematics. When asked about the state standards, Brian Sniff remarked that they were being rewritten, but that the changes seem to be minimal. He is on the high school rewrite committee, and I hope he is incorrect about the changes since significant changes should be made. We now have a serious report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel which was asked to report on algebra. In addition to comments on what is needed to prepare students for algebra, which should have an impact on both elementary and middle school mathematics, there is a good description of what algebra in high school should contain. Some of the books used in MMSD do not have the needed algebra. In addition, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has published Curriculum Focal Points for grades PK-8 which should be used for further details in these grades. Neither of these reports was mentioned in the response you were sent.

Despite initial low test scores, Madison’s Nuestro Mundo gains fans

Samara Kalk Derby:

It’s Thursday afternoon at Madison’s Nuestro Mundo Elementary School and teacher Christina Amberson, “Maestra Cristina” to her kindergarten students, speaks in rapid-fire Spanish. If you didn’t know better, you would assume Spanish was Amberson’s native language. But her impeccable Spanish is a product of many years of studying and teaching abroad in a number of Spanish-speaking countries.



Children respond only in Spanish. The only time they speak English is when English-speaking children are sitting together at tables. If Amberson overhears, she reminds them to use their Spanish.



Amberson’s kindergartners — a nearly even mix of native Spanish speakers and native English speakers — seem more confident with their language than a typical student in a high school or college Spanish class.



Everything posted on the dual-language immersion school’s bulletin boards or blackboards is in Spanish except for a little section of photos and articles about “El Presidente Barack Obama.”

It is ironic that WKCE results are used in this way, given the Wisconsin DPI’s statement: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”. Much more on the WKCE here. The Madison School District is using WKCE data for “Value Added Assessment“.

What’s in a Grade & An Update on Madison’s Standards Based Report Card Scheme

Stafford Palmieri:

The red pen. In our still largely decentralized public school system, it’s no big surprise that this old-fashioned instrument of ill repute gets starkly different treatment from district to district and state to state. Three locales, in fact, have recently reopened the question, “what’s in a grade”–and come up with very different answers. Perhaps by evaluating these recent conversations, we can imagine what standard GPAs might look like.
Fairfax County, Virginia, parents are outraged that their children must score a 94 to receive an A. Neighboring counties give As for a mere 90, they argue, and they and their kids are being unfairly penalized when competing for college admission, national merit awards, even a lower car insurance bill. Parents have taken up arms in hopes that extended pressure on the district to follow the example of nearby school systems will lead to a lower bar; Fairfax is contemplating doing so.
Fairfax’s one-county crusade against grade inflation is probably sacrificing its students on the altar of its ideals, as parents allege, and remedying that problem is not difficult. Despite cries of the old “slippery slope,” shifting the letter-number ratio to match neighboring counties will ultimately benefit Fairfax students (in the short term at least) when it comes to college admissions and the like.
Pittsburgh has tackled the other end of the grading spectrum. All failing grades (those of 50 or below) will henceforth be marked down as 50 percent credit in grade books. Long on the books but only recently enforced, this policy, the district claims, is simply giving students a better chance to “catch up” in the next quarter since quarters are averaged into semester and yearlong grades. “A failing grade is still a failing grade,” explains district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh. Seems not to matter if it’s a 14 or a 49. Round up to 50.

Locally, the Madison School District is implementing “Standards Based Report Cards” in the middle schools.
I’ve wondered what the implementation of this initiative tells parents, citizens and taxpayers, not to mention students about the new Superintendent? See his memo on the subject here. More here.
The State of Wisconsin’s standards are changing, according to this Department of Public Instruction. Peter Sobol’s post on the WKCE’s suitability for tracking student progress is illuminating:

… 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.

Much more on report cards here.

District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 1

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently submitted a five year, $5 million grant proposal to the US Department of Education (DOE) to support the creation of Small Learning Communities (SLCs) in all four high schools (See here for post re. grant application). While the grant proposal makes mention of the two smaller SLC grants … Continue reading District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 1

One Small Step in the Right Direction at West HS …

In light of recent events regarding curriculum and other issues in our high schools, there has been a small step in the right direction at West HS. Superintendent Rainwater announced at our 11/29 MUAE meeting that he has been in discussion with West HS Principal Ed Holmes about providing West 9th and 10th graders who … Continue reading One Small Step in the Right Direction at West HS …

Math Forum Audio / Video and Links

Video and audio from Wednesday’s Math Forum are now available [watch the 80 minute video] [mp3 audio file 1, file 2]. This rare event included the following participants: Dick Askey (UW Math Professor) Faye Hilgart, Madison Metropolitan School District Steffen Lempp (MMSD Parent and UW Math Professor) Linda McQuillen, Madison Metropolitan School District Gabriele Meyer … Continue reading Math Forum Audio / Video and Links

I am Greatly Distressed About La Follette High School’s Four Block System

Dear La Follette Parents & Taxpayers, I am writing because I am greatly distressed about conditions at La Follette High School under the 4-block system. I strongly believe that as parents and taxpayers you have the right to be included in the debate about your child’s education. Because I believe the future of the 4-block … Continue reading I am Greatly Distressed About La Follette High School’s Four Block System

Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Ruth Robarts wrote:

Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.
However, there are reasons to doubt that high percentages of students scoring at these levels on the WRCT mean that high percentages of students are very proficient readers. High scores on Wisconsin tests do not correlate with high scores on the more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.
In 2003, 80% of Wisconsin fourth graders scored proficient or advanced on the WCKE in reading. However, in the same year only 33% of Wisconsin fourth graders reached the proficient or advanced level in reading on the NAEP. Because the performance of Madison students on the WCKE reading tests mirrors the performance of students statewide, it is reasonable to conclude that many of Madisons proficient and advanced readers would also score much lower on the NAEP. For more information about the gap between scores on the WKCE and the NAEP in reading and math, see EdWatch Online 2004 State Summary Reports at www.edtrust.org.
Next year the federal No Child Left Behind Act replaces the Wisconsin subject area tests with national tests. In view of this change and questions about the value of WRCT scores, its time for the Board of Education to review its benchmarks for progress on its goal of all third-graders reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Ruth Robarts
Member, Madison Board of Education

Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater sent me an email today regarding this paper. Here’s his email: Dear Jim I received a copy of your email to Diane Mayerfeld regarding reading in the Madison Schools. I would like to set straight the misinformation that is contained in the document that you included with your email. First … Continue reading Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First