Area school districts are analyzing the results of the 2011-12 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
Last fall, students in third through eighth grade and tenth grade took the WKCE in reading and math.
In addition, students in fourth, eighth and tenth grades took assessments in language arts, science and social studies.
In late March, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the 2011-12 results.
Those results show that in math, 78 percent of all Wisconsin students scored proficient or advanced, while on the reading assessment, 81.9 percent scored proficient or advanced.
A year ago, those numbers were 77.2 percent and 83 percent respectively.
The results were mixed for the three school districts on this side of Waupaca County. Overall, New London students who took the test finished above the state average in all five subjects. Manawa students finished atop of the three schools in three of the five subjects, and slightly below the state average in two other subjects. Clintonville students finished below the state average in all five subjects.
The WKCE measures the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and is administered in the fall to all students enrolled in Wisconsin public schools.
Students are identified as advanced, proficient, basic or minimal, and by federal law, schools and school districts must reach a particular threshold of students achieving advanced or proficient.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required each state to establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress.
Since then, schools and school districts have seen those expected thresholds increase each school year, with 100 percent proficiency expected in 2014.
For this school year, a school or school district was to achieve a proficiency index of 87 percent in reading and 79 percent in math.
Wisconsin is among the states that has requested a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to meet the objectives.
The state is in the process of transitioning to the Common Core Standards and from using the WKCE as an assessment test to using the SMARTER Balanced Assessment.
Wisconsin is scheduled to begin using that new assessment in the 2014-15 school year. Students in third through eighth grade will be assessed, with the one change being that juniors will be tested, not sophomores.
In the Clintonville School District, 73.2 percent of the students were advanced or proficient in reading, 55.9 percent were in language arts, 67.1 percent were in math, 66.8 percent were in science and 71.8 were in social studies.
In the 2010-11 school year, 76.1 percent were advanced or proficient in reading, 61.4 percent were in language arts, 67.0 percent were in math, 69.8 percent were in science and 80.0 percent were in social studies.
Chris Van Hoof, director of instruction for the Clintonville School District, said in general, the District is not happy with its scores. She said the district is analyzing the data to see what is causing the below average scores and what the district can do about them.
Van Hoof said it is not an excuse, but she said the district feels the student population is changing faster than the district has changed its instruction to deal with those changes.
She also said the district has seen the poverty rate within the district increase faster than the rate in other area districts.
"We know there are schools that are very successful regardless of poverty, regardless of Special Education status, so we need to be looking at, and we have been looking at, ‘How do we get better with those populations of students?’" Van Hoof said.
To help with student assessment, the district also uses several other assessment programs.
Starting this year, it has implemented Tier 1 Math Instruction for grades K-8.
"We know that all of our teachers need to get better at teaching math," Van Hoof said. "It’s not a matter of prepping for this test, it’s a matter of teaching math across the board."
The district is also doing studies at the middle school and high school level regarding teaching with poverty in mind.
"That was started long before we saw these scores," Van Hoof said. "We know that over the last couple years, this has been a concern of ours, that our population is changing and we have not been able to keep up with it."
To help get more instantaneous assessment results than what the WKCE test provides, Van Hoof said the district has started using the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), which is a computerized, adaptive assessment. The MAP assessment is for K-10th grade.
"MAP is adaptive so that if you get the answer right, the test gets harder. If you get the answer wrong, the test gets easier," Van Hoof said. "Immediately when the test is done you are given a score. WKCE will tell you whether they are or are not at grade level. MAP will say they are not at grade level or they are, and choose where they are. We may have a fifth-grade student who’s performing at an eighth-grade reading level, and as a teacher, I need to know they are performing at an eighth-grade reading level. We may have a fifth-grade student who is performing at a third-grade reading level, but I need to know that."
The MAP assessment is given to students in the fall, winter and spring. The instantaneous results are helpful for immediate student assessment and monitoring progress throughout the year.
Van Hoof compared the WKCE tests to the high jump in which the bar is set at a certain level by grade and goes up by grade. Either a student makes it over the bar or they don’t, and the district gets credit for only those who jump over the bar.
"MAP says every student has their own individual bar, so if a student who was jumping two feet when they came in and is now jumping four, but the bar says it has to be four and a half, well, they’ve increased by two and a half feet and the school gets no credit through WKCE."
In addition to the MAP assessment the district also has a district writing assessment for K-8th grade. The WKCE test results, along with the other assessment results, and information from teachers regarding students are all used by the district, Van Hoof said.
"We call it triangulating data," Van Hoof said. "We use the teacher information, we use the MAP information and we use the WKCE information. The more we have the better."
In the New London School District, 82.6 percent of the students were advanced or proficient in reading, 71.1 percent were in language arts, 81.8 percent were in math, 79.4 percent were in science and 85.6 were in social studies.
In the 2010-11 school year, 85.2 percent were advanced or proficient in reading, 70.2 percent were in language arts, 79.0 percent were in math, 80.7 percent were in science and 87.4 percent were in social studies.
"When looking at progress we focus mainly on reading and math, so we start there," said Director of Teaching and Learning Kathy Gwidt. "A great deal of what we do is connected to reading and math, whether you are teaching tech education and integrating reading and math into it or you are teach them to read in first grade."
Gwidt said there aren’t too many surprises from the WKCE test because the school district does formative assessments throughout the course of the year. She said the district administers Scantron tests three times a year.
Scantron tests are computer adaptive, and students start taking them in second grade.
"We provide it up to three times a year. If we have any need to, we can assess students more," Gwidt said. "Honestly, by the time we get to grade seven we’re assessing a little bit less because it takes time out of the instructional day."
When analyzing the WKCE test results, Gwidt said the district connects those results to what they thought the results would be based on all the other data obtained through the Scantron assessments.
The District does value the WKCE test results, but Gwidt said there are limitations to those results when evaluating the progress of students. First, the test is administered only once a year — in the fall. Second, the District does not receive the results until the following March or later.
"It’s a large-scale standardized assessment," Gwidt said. "If that were the only means of tracking how our students were doing we would really be providing a great disservice to them because in my example of using benchmark assessment, we do work with many students who may be below the benchmark in September and by April they are well, well above the benchmark for the grade level."
To combat the shortcomings of the WKCE test, the district level common assessments in mathematics and reading are conducted. It also has literacy assessment portfolios.
"Math is the area that over the last three years we have worked the hardest at and we’re seeing some tremendous results in the assessments now, which is always our long-range goal," Gwidt said. "Our immediate goal is just to do better for our kids. Our mission is success for all students. What we are doing is trying to provide rich, solid instruction."
To help achieve that, Gwidt said the district has addressed its curriculum over the last two years in a way to make it align better with Common Core Standards.
"In doing so, we looked at our current resources from a couple years ago and said, ‘We’re not connecting at all,’" Gwidt said. "Our kids need better resources. We have adopted resources that have helped teachers present the material so the kids have more of an opportunity to really let the information sink in. …We are seeing a lot greater retention from year-to-year."
In the Manawa School District, 86.7 percent of the students were advanced or proficient in reading, 69.4 percent were in language arts, 77.4 percent were in math, 87.3 percent were in science and 89.5 were in social studies.
In the 2010-11 school year, 89.4 percent were advanced or proficient in reading, 71.2 percent were in language arts, 79.3 percent were in math, 84.8 percent were in science and 92.4 percent were in social studies.
"WKCE gives us a tool I think of looking at our curriculum and tying it to what we are doing, what’s working and where do we need to improve to help our students improve," said Cindy Kelm, a guidance councilor for the School District of Manawa.
District Adminstrator Ed Dombrowski agreed that the WKCE test is a gauge of how well a district’s curriculum is doing.
"If we see we are dropping off we have to analyze it. What we are supposed to do is meet with each of the staff and go through an analysis as to why we did what we did and why the students performed the way they did. We do it annually," Dombrowski said. "Then what you do is you are always evaluating yourself as to how you better your curriculum."
Dombrowski said the district can’t control all the variables regarding the WKCE test.
"The only thing we can control is say, "Here is the test. Take the test,’" Dombrowski said. "That’s why my concern is not so much with the test itself or the results, although I know the public wants the results, my concern is what we are doing to fix to get to where we need to go."
As other area school districts are doing, the Manawa School District also uses additional assessment programs to monitor the progress of students. Mary Roenz, a guidance councilor for the School District of Manawa, said it uses an online achievement STAR test. This test is similar to the MAP assessment, and is also given to students three times per year.
Roenz said the district used to use Scantron testing but switched to STAR because the STAR test provides immediate feedback and students in urgent need of remediation can be targeted quickly. It is also less time consuming to take.
The STAR test is currently given to first through eighth grade, but will be expanded to ninth and tenth grade next year because the district noticed some learning gaps, Roenz said.
"It’s given three times a year and it’s really a better tool for us to help evaluate where students are progressing and not progressing," Roenz said. "… It gives us real feedback on students’ progress."
"We are also now doing a little bit different way of holding our staff and administrators accountable to make sure that if we say we are going to deliver this education, that we are going to deliver," Dombrowski said.
He said the Build Your Own Curriculum, which the district will be implementing, is going to help measure the district in terms of constantly re-evaluating its curriculum.
"We have to take a look at where our strengths are and how do we fix the weaknesses," Dombrowski said.
Roenz said she feels the teachers in the district are aware of the performance of their students without a test.
"To me, the test affirms what the teachers have been saying where they see some need areas," Roenz said. "The second thing I think it’s done is caused us to look at how we deliver services here at the high school level for this coming year. We are moving into a different type of scheduling. Instead of a seven period day, we’re going to the block schedule. I think it’s helped us move there and give credence as to why we need to move there."
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