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Old Tests + New Standards = Lower Scores for Superior Students

Emily Kram, Superior Telegram. WI

Wisconsin Standardized TestsWisconsin students' tests scores are expected to drop due to outdated tests and new state standards. 

As the new school year kicks off, Wisconsin parents are receiving a troubling message:

Superior parents should expect to see a drop in student proficiency scores this school year, but it won't actually mean their children are performing worse on tests.

Beginning this year, all Wisconsin schools face new standards for evaluating student scores on the annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts.

MaryAnne Korsch, director of curriculum for the Superior school district, said there will be no change initially in how students are tested. They will still take the WKCE in the fall and the district will continue its own testing for more timely information about students' achievement.

The changes come in the scoring system used to evaluate test results. Wisconsin will now judge student proficiency according to the standards of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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"We are working as a district administrative team and with teachers to be clear about what the new rigorous expectations are and to meet those expectations," Korsch said. "It may take time, but we have good focus and a good team."

With the new standards, Superior school district superintendent Janna Stevens expects a significant drop in the percentage of students ranked proficient or advanced on the test.

"We should plan that kids we have listed right now as 'advanced' will probably drop to 'proficient.' They'll all drop a level; that's what we're planning for," Stevens said. "It's going to be upsetting to see that, frankly."

The major difference between the two scoring systems rests with the definition of "proficiency." Under the old test standards, proficiency was defined as "performing at grade level." To be deemed proficient by the national standards students must demonstrate "competency over challenging subject matter."

"That's marvelous. It's much more challenging, higher-order thinking skills," Stevens said. "My problem with this whole plan is that if you think we have a bad test -- which I think our state superintendent Tony Evers has said publicly many times -- if it's a bad test, why are you making the kids take a bad test? That doesn't make any sense to me."

Wisconsin is in the process of developing a new statewide assessment, likely to be implemented in 2015. The new test would be conducted online and be adaptive, meaning questions increase in difficulty when students answer correctly and decrease when they answer incorrectly.

But until the new assessment is finished, schools administer the old test with its new standards. That has schools preparing for a sharp drop in test scores.

Stevens warned the Superior school district staff to brace for lower scores in a letter she sent out before the start of the school year.

In the letter, she compared the state's old scoring system to the new benchmarks. By the old test's standards, about 82 percent of students ranked proficient statewide each year. Only 34 percent of the same students would receive a proficient ranking using NAEP standards.

In math a similar drop is expected, from 81 percent under the old test criteria to 40 percent with standard.

"I wish that at the state level they would have had the smarter balanced assessment ready to roll out so we could have taken that test and then wherever we scored we could live with that," Stevens said.

Schools also would be evaluated by new standards of accountability this year. Each school will receive an annual "report card" with a ranking from "fails to meet expectations" to "significantly exceeds expectations." School districts get the report cards in September, and the information can be released to the public by mid-October.

The report cards rate schools in five areas: student achievement; student growth; on-track and post-secondary readiness; student engagement; and closing gaps in math and reading achievement and graduation rates.

Standardized test scores figure prominently in the scoring, but the system also takes into account issues like absenteeism and school dropout rates.

"The rating that they do within that is quite complicated," Stevens said. "A lot of statistical information goes in there to try to figure out a good score."

Scores from the five areas are averaged together and schools then receive their final ranking on a scale from 0 to 100.

Stevens said she expects the Superior school district to fall within the "meets expectations" category, which has a point range of 63-72.9.

As with the new scoring system for the WKCE, Stevens believes the accountability rankings for schools are misleading. Superior, for example, is likely to finish in the middle of the pack with its report card ranking. Looking at 2012 ACT scores, however, Superior earned its best marks in years and ranked above the state average.

"We have the highest ACT scores tracked by to 1993," Stevens said. "We're above the state average in every single category. So it's hard to have all these great things happening and then possibly get a report card that says we have some work to do."

More information about Wisconsin's new accountability standards, including sample report cards, can be found at


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(c)2012 the Superior Telegram (Superior, Wis.)

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Old Tests + New Standards = Lower Scores for Superior Students

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