With a month of school under their belts, teachers, kids and their parents are settling into another year of homework, tests, field trips and pep rallies.
Amidst all of this, a group of policymakers, academics and education advocates have been working behind the scenes to design a new school accountability system that will more accurately measure students’ progress and let us all know where additional help is needed.
Led by Gov. Scott Walker, State Superintendent Tony Evers, myself and Rep. Steve Kestell, this team is specifically working to “design a fair and accurate accountability system that measures the growth and attainment of all students, including those in traditional public schools, charter schools, and private school choice programs, to ensure that every Wisconsin child has the opportunity to graduate ready to succeed in college or a career.”
The work of the design team is far from over, but before the first quarter report cards come out I would like to update you on our discussion. Specifically, we have been discussing our current assessment system and the importance of improving the measurements that we use to make them more meaningful for teachers, students, parents, administrators and policymakers.
Although the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law has received a lot of criticism over the years, the basic idea behind it made sense: hold schools and districts accountable for raising student achievement. I do not think there are many people who would disagree that schools are responsible for teaching students what they need to be successful adults.
At the same time, there are a lot of problems with NCLB. For one thing, it failed to recognize the different situations of different children and how that impacts their learning. It does not provide enough support for schools to help them raise their achievement levels.
The other problem for Wisconsin is not really caused by NCLB, but goes hand in hand with it. To put it simply, our standards have been set so low that they do not really tell us if students are learning what they need to in order to succeed.
Wisconsin is already well on its way toward raising our standards and student achievement. Last year, Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt a national model of standards in English, language arts and mathematics called the Common Core Standards. The design team has recognized that we need to build on these standards with a system of measurement and accountability that is valid, reliable and timely.
For many years, the state has used the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam as the statewide assessment in third through eighth and 10th grades. The WKCE is being phased out and a new assessment is being developed.
The statewide assessment shows us how a school is doing based on how many of its students are deemed proficient in English language arts and mathematics. We all know, though, that this only tells us one part of the story. It does not show us how students are doing in other areas that are also important for college readiness.
Also, while it shows us what percentage of students have attained proficiency it does not tell us about the growth of individual students. The design team has been discussing the need to measure the growth of individual students to better identify where additional help is needed.
Any new statewide assessment plan would apply to all schools that receive public money. This means schools participating in the school choice program, charter schools and regular public schools would be assessed using the same measures. Representatives from the school choice and the charter school community sit on the design team and we are working together to decide the components of the system that will apply to all schools.
As I said before, the design team’s work is not yet complete. I look forward to the discussions among this group of people committed to improving our accountability system.