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December 24, 2004

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

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 Madison�s �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, it�s 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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at December 24, 2004 12:31 PM
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