Standardized tests have been used in public schools in the U.S. for nearly 50 years.
The original Elementary and Secondary Schools Act passed by Congress in 1965 required the use of these tests so that policymakers, parents and educators could make reliable comparisons of different schools.
Over time, these tests have evolved to better help educators and parents understand how their children are doing in school.
There are some people who think we test students too much, others who believe we should use different measurements and others who believe performance on standardized tests should carry greater weight for students, teachers and schools.
It seems to me that since we began using standardized tests, we’ve been looking for ways to make them better. I believe that the new testing program the state will be implementing is a better test that will help educators and parents see how their students are doing in school and where additional help is needed.
Under state law, students in public schools (including charters) and in schools participating in the school choice program, take standardized tests in fourth, eighth and 10th grades. Wisconsin law also requires a third grade reading test.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students are required to take a math and reading test every year between third and eighth grade and once in high school. The federal law alsorequires a science test at least once in elementary, middle and high school.
In Wisconsin, these testing requirements are met by the administration of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.
The 2013-14 school year is the last year the state will use the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam. It will be replaced in the 2014-15 school year with new tests at all levels.
For elementary and middle school, the state will begin to use the Smarter Balanced and Dynamic Learning assessments. Smarter Balanced is aligned with Common Core Standards which were adopted in Wisconsin in 2010.
It will be field tested in 2013-14 and will replace the math, reading and language arts portions of the WKCE for third through eighth grades beginning in 2014-15. Dynamic Learning will replace the Wisconsin Alternative Assessment for Students with Disabilities.
The new Smarter Balanced assessment is the next generation in standardized testing. It uses computer-adaptive testing to adjust the difficulty level of the questions based on previous answers. This type of testing is generally considered a more accurate measurement of a
student’s knowledge and skills.
The test also uses benchmark assessments throughout the school year to help guide classroom instruction.
While the Smarter Balanced assessments will replace the WKCE in elementary and middle school, the state has chosen to use a suite of tests from the ACT for the high school level testing.
All juniors will take the ACT test that is used for college admissions. This test is seen as a reliable predictor of college success. Parents who previously paid to have their children take the ACT will no longer
shoulder that cost.
Freshmen and sophomores will take two tests that are a part of the ACT suite of tests, called Plan and Explore. This group of tests can be used to track a student’s progress through high school, identify areas where students need extra help and track student growth over time.
The final component of the ACT suite is a test called WorkKeys which is designed to assess high school students to help them identify additional coursework and provide an indicator for career readiness.
As we all know, simply implementing new tests will not solve all our problems. We need to make sure that the cut scores, meaning the level at which we consider a student to be at a basic, proficient, or advanced level needs to be set at an appropriate level.
If set too high, failure rates could be inflated. If set to low, as was the case with the WKCE,
success rates would be inflated. Either way, the tests become less meaningful and useful when that happens.
In the end, the most important thing is to use the information from these tests to help improve student learning.