New standards show more kids are in ‘educational basement’

Alan Borsuk:

Let’s take a trip to the basement of Wisconsin educational success.
The spotlight on student success is almost always on the top levels – “advanced” and “proficient,” as they are labeled. I’ve done it that way for years myself, focusing on what percentage of kids were doing well.
How many were at what I would call the ground level of success (labeled “basic”) or basement level (“minimal”) got little attention.
But as I strolled through some of the scores for schools across the state that were released last week by the state Department of Public Instruction, I found my focus shifting to the “minimal” totals.
Why? The results differ so dramatically from previous years. The bar for putting a student in the higher categories for reading and math has been raised sharply, which means the number of students in those categories has fallen sharply. There are a lot more kids in the basement now – 24% of all test-takers in the state were rated “minimal” in reading, compared to 5% a year ago.
We’ve never given a school respect for keeping down the number of kids who show minimal proficiency. In the new approach, maybe it’s time to do that. That’s especially true in Milwaukee, where students at high-risk of not doing well are so plentiful.
There is a wide variation from school to school in how many students are rated “minimal,” as compared to “basic,” even in schools dealing with similarly challenging kids. There are schools with extraordinary concentrations of “minimal” kids, which I take as not a good sign about the school.