New Wisconsin Promise Conference: Closing the Achievement Gap

The 2006 New Wisconsin Promise Conference, Closing the Achievement Gap, will be held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison on January 11-12, 2006.
The conference will focus on strategies for educators who are looking for help in meeting the progressively higher academic expectations of No Child Left Behind.

The Engagement in Learning track includes sessions on attendance, graduation, teacher involvement in learning, student motivation for learning, parent and community involvement in learning, classroom management, and best instructional practices.
The School Improvement tracks features information on needs assessment, data-based decision making, evaluation, school improvement planning, professional development, literacy including early childhood literacy, and literacy for elementary, middle, and secondary grades, as well as adult literacy, and reading across the curriculum.
The Mathematics track will consider approaches to early childhood mathematics, mathematics for elementary, middle, and secondary grades, and functional mathematics.
Early registration of $75 per person is available through December 9, after which registration is $100. On-line registration is available. Conference details are available on the DPI’s Web site.

One thought on “New Wisconsin Promise Conference: Closing the Achievement Gap”

  1. Maybe this belongs as an item of its own. Feel free to move it to its own space if you deem it necessary. Or delete it if you think it is too “rant-like”.
    I feel I have to say that I have my doubts about whether or not all this “focus on strategies for educators who are looking for help in meeting the progressively higher academic expectations of No Child Left Behind” is what everyone involved is seeking, especially in the long run, across states and standards. One of the aspects of No CHild Left Behind that most shocked me when I learned of it: the federal government is demanding that increasing percentages of student score at proficient or advanced levels in all subjects, until it is essentially 100% by a few years down the line. This of course begs the question of whether or not this is even possible, since there are diverse students in every school, some of whom may not ever really comprehend some mathematical theories (or need to in practical terms), or perhaps not dive into literature at the same level, able to fully immerse themselves in a given author’s story, voice and style.
    Given the small percentage of children in any district that are allowed ‘alternative assessments’, no matter how many students in that district have special needs and how serious those needs are, most days find me cynical enough to laugh at the “100%-proficient” myth. Remember that “Proficient” according to DPI means mastery of all material “at grade level” in that subject, with no comparatively weak areas. “Basic” means mastery of many or most areas at grade level, but not “full” mastery of all grade-appropriate materials. Basic does not pass. A fellow student of mine in my graduate education program has several years of experience in a district in MN. They had “too many” students who could not meaningfully take the state tests. So, they spent weeks of class time training some of their students who literally cannot reliably find the correct change for their bus fare, to simply look at the right number test question and fill in a choice (any choice, but only one) on the right answer sheet line. Is that serving their real and practical educational needs? Of course not.
    There is also the question of whether or not this means anything, really, to claim enough kids are “proficient” and therefore, a given school or state has met the requirements of this law, when each state is allowed to judge that proficiency according to their own standards and their own testing. Not enough people passed this year? Okay, we make the test a bit easier next year, so more kids pass, and “presto” we are suddenly no longer “behind” according to the federal law, but are in compliance. With no federal guidelines/standards or tests to measure this, it seems to me, the federal demands of this law mean little. Say 88% of Georgia’s fourth graders score proficient or advanced on their state assessments for reading. Wonderful, right? So why do fewer than 40% of them score proficient or advanced on a nationally administered measure of ALLEGEDLY THE SAME MATERIAL? If Wisconsin only has 80% of our fourth graders scoring advanced or proficient on our tests, does that really mean we are deficient? (Not that this is a real number, *I am making that number up*.) WHat if 80% of our students also score advanced or proficient on the same nationally standardized tests that those kids from Georgia (or wherever) took? According to the federal mandates in NCLB, because we did not have 88% (say) of our fourth graders pass our state test advanced or proficient in reading this year, we are slacking and subject to penalties. And they wonder why states’ scores differ so much? Many do what Texas has done in some of the required areas, and simply dumb down their own tests until the mandated percentage of kids pass.
    I am all for educators (myself included!) learning more about differentiation, helping *all* kids learn to their fullest potential, and continuing to raise all students’ performance levels. But using this law as the basis for “needing” to do this is bogus. As long as individual states get to set their own individual standards and write their own tests, this will not really work FOR ALL STUDENTS.
    I am proud of Wisconsin’s reputation as a strong education state (and Minnesota’s too, for that matter). I hope we can rightfully maintain that reputation and not fall into the trap of messing with our state standards until all students can “pass”, no matter what level of absolute performance that may entail. As the St Louis case proves, “shrinking the achievement gap” is not a good thing if it means that the higher achieving students’ performance falls at the same time the lower achieving students’ scores do improve some. Why can’t they both improve? In theory, if educational opportunities were equal, performance across racial and socioeconomic lines would also be equal. How can we do that? And fairly, without manipulating tests and standards? Those are not the questions NCLB encourages.

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