New tests, more rigorous academic standards and how teachers and schools are evaluated are among the changes coming to local schools in the near future.
State Superintendent Tony Evers announced earlier in July that the U.S. Department of Education had approved Wisconsin’s request for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
“Our reform agenda will change academic standards, instructional practices and assessments; it will more accurately and meaningfully assess and report how our schools are doing; it will recognize schools that are doing well at educating students and closing achievement gaps and will provide support for those schools that need to do better; and it will provide a fair, performance-based evaluation system to ensure students have effective teachers,” Evers said.
Among the key changes related to the NCLB waiver is a shift in how public education is evaluated.
“We’re moving from the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind approach to the current administration’s Common Core approach,” according to Rob Becker, a Waupaca High School principal. “Under No Child Left Behind, the goal was for 100 percent of the students to reach proficiency. In reality, there are students, such as those who are cognitively disabled, who will never be able to read at a 10th-grade level.”
The new approach will measure not only how all students in a district perform on a test, but how individual students are progressing toward the Common Core goal of being prepared for college or the 21st-century workplace.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is raising the number of math and science credits required for graduation. Students will need at least three years each of math and science classes in order to graduate. The current requirement is only two credits each.
The Common Core standards also place more emphasis on math and language arts.
Wisconsin has been preparing for the transition to the Common Core standards since 2010, and local school districts such as Waupaca have been sending teachers and administrators to training sessions on the Common Core.
Raising the bar
In the past, the public could see how well a school district was performing by looking at its state test results.
Under NCLB, Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE) tests were administered every fall throughout the state. Students in third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades took tests in reading and math, while students in fourth, eighth and tenth grades took tests in reading, math, science, language arts, writing and social studies.
The tests would measure what percentage of the students were advanced or proficient in each of the subject areas.
Under the waiver, student proficiency will be measured by a new system being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessments. The new tests will go into effect in the 2014-15 academic year.
Instead of taking the tests in the fall, students will take them in the spring. The high school tests will be administered to juniors rather than seniors.
The proficiency levels on the Smarter Balanced tests will be benchmarked against more rigorous national and international standards.
The higher standards, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will also be applied to WKCE test results over the next two years, until the Smarter Balanced tests are fully implemented.
“Our reading and math scores have generally been pretty good, but like schools across the state, we will probably be looking at lower proficiency scores,” according to Tess Lecy-Wojcik, the acting administrator for the Iola-Scandinavia School District.
Lecy-Wojcik said teachers in the I-S district will need to examine their teaching methods more carefully, discuss best practices and learn how to work more effectively.
“We will need to have more students be proficien. We just can’t sit back and hope we do better,” she said.
Weyauwega-Fremont District Administrator Scott Bleck also expects to see a slight reduction in the percentage of students scoring proficient under the new standards.
“NAEP results are much more rigorous and they are aligned with the Common core standards,” Bleck said. “When we have our first NAEP scores, we will need to identify our strengths and weaknesses.”
Rhonda Hare, the new principal at Chain Elementary School in Waupaca, describes a key difference between the new Common Core model and the NCLB model with a track and field metaphor.
Under NCLB, all students’ success is measured by their ability to jump a bar set at the same height. Students who jump the bar are considered proficient.
Under the Common Core model, the bar for each, individual student is constantly being raised.
“The problem is how do you measure the success of the whole school system while encouraging individual students?” Hare said.
Waupaca District Administrator Dave Poeschl said that although the Smarter Balanced assessments are still being developed, teachers and administrators know some aspects of the tests.
“We know the tests will be like the MAP (Measures for Academic Progress) assessments so our students will be familiar with the methods of assessment,” Poeschl said.
The new tests will be computer-based, and no two tests will be identical. As students take the tests, the questions will become more difficult for those who answer questions correctly and more basic for those who answer incorrectly. Teachers will be able to use this information to determine where a student needs help.
One criticism of NCLB was that it placed too much focus on under-performing students and schools, while not helping top performing students stay on track.
“We understand that students enter the classroom with varying abilities,” Poeschl said. “We don’t want an evaluation instrument that simply measures a single test score. We want a wide variety of ways to measure a student’s progress.”
Hare noted that Waupaca’s elementary schools currently use the MAP tests throughout the school year to evaluate individual student progress. To meet the Common Core standards, students will take the MAP test more frequently to determine if they are on track to learning what they need to know to graduate.
“The WKCE measures systems, but not students,” Hare said. “MAP does more than measure a student’s progress, it also drives instruction. You can see what a student has missed.”
As part of its NCLB waiver, the state of Wisconsin must develop a system for evaluating its teachers and principals within the next two years.
The evaluations will be based half on student outcomes and half on educator practices.
“A number of groups are coming up with ideas for evaluation that will be piloted over the next year,” Poeschl said. “Evaluating a teacher’s progress or a school’s progress is difficult to do. If it were easy, it would have been done long ago.”
Poeschl said the goal is to measure a teacher’s contribution to helping students reach proficiency in the Common Core areas.
“All areas will have to contribute to the core academic standards of our students,” Poeschl said,.
Bleck said the W-F School District is working with CESA 6 to develop its teacher evaluations.
“Our teacher-effectiveness model will actually exceed state standards,” Bleck said. “Teachers will be uploading documents that show what they are doing in the classroom to meet our expectations. It will become part of their record.”
Bleck said there will also be student surveys regarding their teachers.
“Students will be able to indicate how they feel about their teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom,” Bleck said. “It’s not intended to be an evaluative tool for the administrators, but to give teachers feedback so they can create a better classroom environment going forward.”