It’s time somebody looked (at least in the public eye) at some of the demographics and policy/practices and how they may or may not relate to achievement (in terms of WKCE scores).
First a very brief less in the art of correlation. We can take any two pieces of information and mathematically determine whether or not there is a pattern…a correlation. The mathematical tool is the correlation coefficient. It provides a number ranging from -1 (perfect inverse correlation, as X increases, Y decreases) to +1 (perfect correlation, as X increases/decreases, so does Y). Then, all we need to do is apply some statistics based on the size of our data set to determine whether or not the correlation is significant (statistically speaking). For this exercise we looked at the 95% level of confidence, which means that there would be 5% or less chance that the correlation observed resulted from chance alone.
Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.
Wisconsin (and just about every other state) is involved in developing new state tests. That work is one of the requirements of getting a waiver and, if a bill ever emerges form Congress, it will almost certainly continue to require every state to do testing.
But the new tests aren’t scheduled to be in place for three years – in the fall of 2014. So this fall and for at least the next two, Wisconsin’s school children and schools will go through the elaborate process of taking a test that still gets lots of attention but seems to be less useful each year it lives on.
The oft-criticized WKCE often provides grist for “successes”. Sometimes, rarely, the truth about its low standards is quietly mentioned.
I remember a conversation with a well educated Madison parent earlier this year. “My child is doing well, the WKCE reports him scoring in the 95th percentile in math”……
www.wisconsin2.org is worth a visit.
Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance, via a kind reader’s email [View the 146K PDF]
On August 27, 2009, State Superintendent Tony Evers stated that the State of Wisconsin would eliminate the current WKCE to move to a Balanced System of Assessment. In his statement, the State Superintendent said the following:
New assessments at the elementary and middle school level will likely be computer- based with multiple opportunities to benchmark student progress during the school year. This type of assessment tool allows for immediate and detailed information about student understanding and facilitates the teachers’ ability to re-teach or accelerate classroom instruction. At the high school level, the WKCE will be replaced by assessments that provide more information on college and workforce readiness.
By March 2010, the US Department of Education intends to announce a $350 million grant competition that would support one or more applications from a consortia of states working to develop high quality state assessments. The WI DPI is currently in conversation with other states regarding forming consortia to apply for this federal funding.
In September, 2009, the School Administrators Alliance formed a Project Team to make recommendations regarding the future of state assessment in Wisconsin. The Project Team has met and outlined recommendations what school and district administrators believe can transform Wisconsin’s state assessment system into a powerful tool to support student learning.
Criteria Underlying the Recommendations:
- Wisconsin’s new assessment system must be one that has the following characteristics:
- Benchmarked to skills and knowledge for college and career readiness • Measures student achievement and growth of all students
- Relevant to students, parents, teachers and external stakeholders
- Provides timely feedback that adds value to the learning process • Efficient to administer
- Aligned with and supportive of each school district’s teaching and learning
- Advances the State’s vision of a balanced assessment system
Wisconsin’s Assessment test: The WKCE has been oft criticized for its lack of rigor.
The WKCE serves as the foundation for the Madison School District’s “Value Added Assessment” initiative, via the UW-Madison School of Education.
WisPolitics Olsen said he sees the Common Core standards as an improvement over Wisconsin’s old standards and points to support from the conservative Fordham Foundation and business leaders like Bill Gates, who argue the standards are needed to remain competitive in a global economy. He wants to avoid a situation similar to Indiana, which dropped … Continue reading Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents
isconsin State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Evers used the platform of his annual State of Education speech Thursday to respond to skeptics of Common Core standards, whose ranks Republican Gov. Scott Walker joined just a few days earlier.
“We cannot go back to a time when our standards were a mile wide and an inch deep, leaving too many kids ill prepared for the demands of college and a career. We cannot pull the rug out from under thousands of kids, parents and educators who have spent the past three years working to reach these new, higher expectations that we have set for them. To do so would have deep and far reaching consequences for our kids, and for our state,” Evers said in remarks at the State Capitol that also touched on accountability for voucher schools. “We must put our kids above our politics. And we owe it to them to stay the course.”
Evers signed on to national Common Core curriculum standards for reading and math in 2010, making Wisconsin one of the first states to adopt them. School districts across the state, including Madison Metropolitan School District, are in the process of implementing them. Madison schools Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has called Common Core standards “pretty wonderful,” and says they are about critical thinking and applying skills to practical tasks.
Walker had been pretty low-key about Common Core until a few days ago, when he issued a statement calling for separate, more rigorous state standards. Republican leaders of both houses of the state Legislature quickly announced special committees to weigh the Common Core standards, and public hearings on not-yet-adopted science and social studies standards will be held, according to one report.
Related: Wisconsin’s oft-criticized WKCE assessment and wisconsin2.org
Among the most common rationales offered for the Common Core State Standards project is to eliminate differences in the definition of student proficiency in core academic subjects across states. As is well known, the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) required states to test students annually in grades 3-8 (and once in high school), to report the share of students in each school performing at a proficient level in math and reading, and to intervene in schools not on track to achieve universal student proficiency by 2014. Yet it permitted states to define proficiency as they saw fit, producing wide variation in the expectations for student performance from one state to the next. While a few states, including several that had set performance standards prior to NCLB’s enactment, have maintained relatively demanding definitions of proficiency, most have been more lenient.
The differences in expectations for students across states are striking. In 2011, for example, Alabama reported that 77 percent of its 8th grade students were proficient in math, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests administered that same year indicated that just 20 percent of Alabama’s 8th graders were proficient against NAEP standards. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, roughly the same share of 8th graders achieved proficiency on the state test (52 percent) as did so on the NAEP (51 percent). In other words, Alabama deemed 25 percent more of its students proficient than did Massachusetts despite the fact that its students performed at markedly lower levels when evaluated against a common standard. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has gone so far as to accuse states like Alabama of “lying to children and parents” by setting low expectations for student performance.
Wisconsin’s oft-criticized WKCE is similar to Alabama’s proficiency approach, rather than Massachusetts. Yet, Alabama has seen fit to compare their students to the world, something Wisconsin has resisted.
Interim Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore (175K PDF):
The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) is a computer adaptive series of assessments from the North West Evaluation Association (NWEA). There are tests in reading, language usage and math.
When taking a MAP test, the difficulty of each question is based on how well a student answers all the previous questions. As the student answers correctly, questions become more difficult. If the student answers incorrectly, the questions become easier. In an optimal test, a student answers approximately half the items correctly and half incorrectly. The final score is an estimate of the student’s achievement level. Each test takes approximately 50 minutes to complete.
MMSD has chosen to administer MAP for the following reasons:
- It helps ensure technical infrastructure to support implementation of Smarter Balanced Assessment.
- Rapid turn-around of classroom, school and district level data.
- Nationally normed results give a more accurate picture of MMSD’s standing.
- MAP measures student achievement growth in content area and within strands in a content area.
- Beginning 2012-13, MAP will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards
- MAP is not high stakes. It is not reported to the state for accountability purposes, but rather for district and school improvement.
In 2011-12, MAP was administered for Grades 3 through 7. In 2012-13, it will be expanded to include Grade 8. The default is to provide the test to all students, but MMSD has the ability to use judgment for students with disabilities. So, not all special education students will take MAP. Also, MAP is not for ELL levels 1 or 2.
I’m glad the Madison Schools published this information, and that they are implementing a much more rigorous assessment than the oft-criticized WKCE. I look forward to seeing the District’s report on the EXPLORE assessment, as well.
Nearby Monona Grove has used the MAP assessment for a number of years. It would be interesting to see how the Districts compare.
Matthew DeFour and TJ Mertz comment.
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“
- 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.
Madison School District 600K PDF:.
I recently attended the third annual update to the 2009 Madison School District Strategic Plan. You can follow the process via these notes and links.
I thought it might be useful to share a few observations on our local public schools during this process:
- General public interest in the schools continues to be the exception, rather than the norm.
- I sense that the District is more open to discussing substantive issues such as reading, math and overall achievement during the past few years. However, it does not appear to have translated into the required tough decision making regarding non-performing programs and curriculum.
- MTI President Kerry Motoviloff recent statement that the District administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”.
- Full teacher Infinite Campus use remains a goal, despite spending millions of dollars, money which could have gone elsewhere given the limited implementation. Unfortunately, this is a huge missed opportunity. Complete course syllabus, assignment and gradebook information would be a powerful tool when evaluating achievement issues.
- The implementation of “standards based report cards” further derailed the Infinite Campus spending/implementation. This is an example of spending money (and time – consider the opportunity cost) on programs that are actually in conflict.
- The District continues to use the oft criticized and very low benchmark WKCE as their measure. This, despite starting to use the MAP exam this year. Nearby Monona Grove has been using MAP for some time.
- Three Madison School Board members attended: Mary Burke, James Howard and Ed Hughes.
- UW-Madison school of Education dean Julie Underwood attended and asked, to my astonishment, (paraphrased) how the District’s various diversity programs were benefiting kids (and achievement)?
The only effective way forward, in my view, is to simplify the District’s core mission to reading, english and math. This means eliminating programs and focusing on the essentials. That will be a difficult change for the organization, but I don’t see how adding programs to the current pile benefits anyone. It will cost more and do less.
Less than 24 hours after I attended the MMSD’s Strategic Plan update, I, through a variety of circumstances, visited one of Milwaukee’s highest performing private/voucher schools, a school with more than 90% low income students. The petri dish that is Milwaukee will produce a far more robust and effective set of schools over the next few decades than the present monolithic approach favored here. More about that visit, soon.
An education reform bill circulating this week would require kindergarten screening exams and teacher evaluations based partly on test scores, but doesn’t update the state’s system for holding schools accountable for student performance.
The omission concerned State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who for the past year has worked with Gov. Scott Walker on three bipartisan task forces addressing literacy, teacher effectiveness and school accountability. The bill includes recommendations from the first two groups, but not the third.
Specifically, the bill doesn’t propose changes that would bring charter schools and private voucher schools under the new accountability system, or update language in state law related to No Child Left Behind.
Evers said the bill misses an opportunity to deliver action on promises made by Walker, legislators and education leaders, including advocates for charter and private voucher schools.
The DPI has much to answer for after the millions spent (and years wasted) on the oft-criticized WKCE.
Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes
Value added” or “VA” refers to the use of statistical techniques to measure teachers’ impacts on their students’ standardized test scores, controlling for such student characteristics as prior years’ scores, gender, ethnicity, disability, and low-income status.
Reports on a massive new study that seem to affirm the use of the technique have recently been splashed across the media and chewed over in the blogosphere. Further from the limelight, developments in Wisconsin seem to ensure that in the coming years value-added analyses will play an increasingly important role in teacher evaluations across the state. Assuming the analyses are performed and applied sensibly, this is a positive development for student learning.
The Chetty Study
Since the first article touting its findings was published on the front page of the January 6 New York Times, a new research study by three economists assessing the value-added contributions of elementary school teachers and their long-term impact on their students’ lives – referred to as the Chetty article after the lead author – has created as much of a stir as could ever be expected for a dense academic study.
Much more on value added assessment, here.
It is important to note that the Madison School District’s value added assessment initiative is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.
The Madison School Board (the discussion begins at about 58 minutes) video archives (11.7.2011) is worth a watch.
Related: Madison School District Identified for Improvement (DIFI); Documentation for the Wisconsin DPI
1. Develop or Revise a District Improvement Plan
Address the fundamental teaching and learning needs of schools in the Local Education Agency (LEA), especially the academic problems o f low-achieving students.
MMSD has been identified by the State of Wisconsin as a District Identified for Improvement, or DIFI. We entered into this status based on District WKCE assessment scores. The data indicates that sub-groups of students-African American students, English Language Learner Students with Disabilities or Economically Disadvantaged -did not score high enough on the WKCE in one or more areas of reading, math or test participation to meet state criteria.
Under No Child Left Behind, 100% of students are expected to achieve proficient or advanced on the WKCE in four areas by 2014. Student performance goals have been raised every year on a regular schedule since 2001, making targets more and more difficult to reach each year. In addition to the curriculum changes being implemented, the following assessments are also new or being implemented during the 2011-12 school year (see Attachment 1):
Perhaps the No Child Left Behind requirement waivers that Education Secretary Duncan has discussed remove the urgency to address these issues. Of course, the benchmark used to measure student progress is the oft-criticized WKCE “Wisconsin, Mississippi Have “Easy State K-12 Exams” – NY Times”.
Related: Comparing Wisconsin & Texas: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.
What does just about every fifth-grader know that stumps experts?
Who the best teachers are in that kid’s school. Who’s hard, who’s easy, who makes you work, who lets you get away with stuff, who gets you interested in things, who’s not really on top of what’s going on. In other words: how good each teacher is.
A lot of the time, the fifth-grader’s opinions are on target.
But would you want to base a teacher’s pay or career on that?
Sorry, the experts are right. It’s tough to get a fair, thorough and insightful handle on how to judge a teacher.
“If there was a magic answer for this, somebody would have thought of it a long time ago,” Bradley Carl of Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: told a gathering of about 100 educators and policy-makers last week.
The Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been working on “Value Added Assessment” using the oft-criticized WKCE.
This paper is the answer to a question: What would the education policies and practices of the United States be if they were based on the policies and practices of the countries that now lead the world in student performance? It is adapted from the last two chapters of a book to be published in September 2011 by Harvard Education Press. Other chapters in that book describe the specific strategies pursued by Canada (focusing on Ontario), China (focusing on Shanghai), Finland, Japan and Singapore, all of which are far ahead of the United States. The research on these countries was performed by a team assembled by the National Center on Education and the Economy, at the request of the OECD.
A century ago, the United States was among the most eager benchmarkers in the world. We took the best ideas in steelmaking, industrial chemicals and many other fields from England and Germany and others and put them to work here on a scale that Europe could not match. At the same time, we were borrowing the best ideas in education, mainly from the Germans and the Scots. It was the period of the most rapid growth our economy had ever seen and it was the time in which we designed the education system that we still have today. It is fair to say that, in many important ways, we owe the current shape of our education system to industrial benchmarking.
But, after World War II, the United States appeared to reign supreme in both the industrial and education arenas and we evidently came to the conclusion that we had little to learn from anyone. As the years went by, one by one, country after country caught up to and then surpassed us in several industries and more or less across the board in precollege education. And still we slept.
Well worth reading. I thought about this topic – benchmarking student progress via the oft-criticized WKCE during this past week’s Madison School District Strategic Planning Update. I’ll have more on that next week.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.
Madison students are slated to get a double dose of standardized tests in the coming years as the state redesigns its annual series of exams while school districts seek better ways to measure learning.
For years, district students in grades three through eight and grade 10 have taken the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a series of state-mandated tests that measure school accountability.
Last month, in addition to the state tests, eighth- and ninth-graders took one of three different tests the district plans to introduce in grades three through 10. Compared with the WKCE, the tests are supposed to more accurately assess whether students are learning at, above or below grade level. Teachers also will get the results more quickly.
“Right now we have a vacuum of appropriate assessment tools,” said Tim Peterson, Madison’s assistant director of curriculum and assessment. “The standards have changed, but the measurement tool that we’re required by law to use — the WKCE — is not connected.”
I’m glad that the District is planning alternatives to the WKCE.
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.
Sheila Byrd Carmichael, Gabrielle Martino, Kathleen Porter-Magee, W. Stephen Wilson:
he K-12 academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and math produced last month by the Common Core State Standards Initiative are clearer and more rigorous than today’s ELA standards in 37 states and today’s math standards in 39 states, according to the Fordham Institute’s newest study. In 33 of those states, the Common Core bests both ELA and math standards. Yet California, Indiana and the District of Columbia have ELA standards that are clearly superior to those of the Common Core. And nearly a dozen states have ELA or math standards in the same league as Common Core. Read on to find out more and see how your state fared.
Wisconsin’s standards (WKCE) have often been criticized. This year’s study grants the Badger State a “D” in Language Arts and an “F” in Math.
The staff of Normandy Crossing Elementary School outside Houston eagerly awaited the results of state achievement tests this spring. For the principal and assistant principal, high scores could buoy their careers at a time when success is increasingly measured by such tests. For fifth-grade math and science teachers, the rewards were more tangible: a bonus of $2,850.
But when the results came back, some seemed too good to be true. Indeed, after an investigation by the Galena Park Independent School District, the principal, assistant principal and three teachers resigned May 24 in a scandal over test tampering.
The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test by “tubing” it — squeezing a test booklet, without breaking its paper seal, to form an open tube so that questions inside could be seen and used in the guide. The district invalidated students’ scores.
Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.
Somewhat related: Wisconsin’s annual student test, the WKCE has often been criticized for its lack of rigor.
As a rookie mom, I used to be shocked when another parent expressed horror about a teacher I thought was a superstar. No more. The fact is that your kids’ results will vary with teachers, just as they do with pills, diets and exercise regimens.
Nonetheless, we all want our kids to have at least a few excellent teachers along the way, so it’s tempting to buy into hype about value-added measures (VAM) as a way to separate the excellent from the horrifying, or least the better from the worse.
It’s so tempting that VAM is likely to be part of a reauthorized No Child Left Behind. The problem is, researchers urge caution because of the same kinds of varied results featured in playground conversations.
Value-added measures use test scores to track the growth of individual students as they progress through the grades and see how much “value” a teacher has added.
The Madison School District has been using Value Added Assessment based on the oft – criticized WKCE.
Bill Clinton may have invented triangulation – the art of finding a “third way” out of a policy dilemma – but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is practicing it to make desperately needed improvements in K-12 education. Unfortunately, his promotion of value-added education through “Race to the Top” grants to states could be thrown under the bus by powerful teachers’ unions that view reforms more for how they affect pay and job security than whether they improve student learning.
The traditional view of education holds that it is more process than product. Educators design a process, hire teachers and administrators to run it, put students through it and consider it a success. The focus is on the inputs – how much can we spend, what curriculum shall we use, what class size is best – with very little on measuring outputs, whether students actually learn. The popular surveys of America’s best schools and colleges reinforce this, measuring resources and reputation, not results. As they say, Harvard University has good graduates because it admits strong applicants, not necessarily because of what happens in the educational process.
In the last decade, the federal No Child Left Behind program has ushered in a new era of testing and accountability, seeking to shift the focus to outcomes. But this more businesslike approach does not always fit a people-centered field such as education. Some students test well, and others do not. Some schools serve a disproportionately high number of students who are not well prepared. Even in good schools, a system driven by testing and accountability incentivizes teaching to the test, neglecting other important and interesting ways to engage and educate students. As a result, policymakers and educators have been ambivalent, at best, about the No Child Left Behind regime.
“Value Added Assessment” is underway in Madison, though the work is based in the oft-criticized state WKCE examinations.