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More rigorous scoring will cause student performance levels to drop, official says

Feb. 19, 2013

More rigorous scoring standards on state tests will result in lower performance levels for students in the Wauwatosa School District and across Wisconsin, said Beth Erenberger, the district's director of student learning.

The changed standards will mean that "cut scores," the scores that divide students into performance levels, such as "advanced," "proficient" and "basic," will rise. For students, this may result in a student identified as proficient in past tests falling to basic, even though he or she scored as well, or better, than before.

The new scoring standards are being imposed as the state begins to phase out the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, the state's chief assessment tool, in favor of a new testing program developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multi-state group. That testing program will be required statewide in the 2014-15 school year.

The new WKCE scoring standards will apply this year to tests given last fall to students in third through eighth grades, and 10th grade, Erenberger said. Individual reports reflecting the change arrive around this time of year.

Preparing parents

The new standards will radically change the picture of state student achievement. Last year, more than half of Wauwatosa students taking the WKCE scored at the highest level - advanced - in reading and math. Applying the new standards to last year's results, 11.5 percent and 20.7 percent of students would have been identified as advanced in reading and math, respectively.

Erenberger said the more rigorous standards are the result of an agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. The agreement gives the state flexibility in meeting certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, in return for making improvements in accountability and programming to support the goal of preparing all students for college and/or careers, among other ideals, according to the DPI.

Specific steps outlined in the agreement between the state and the Department of Education include aligning state cut scores on the WKCE with the more rigorous scale of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a program created by Congress to set test specifications.

Erenberger said the district and the state are reaching out to parents and teachers to explain the new scoring standards. A "Teacher Talking Points" memorandum says, "The lower performance is not unique to your child, our school or our district. It was a statewide drop." It shows how to use the numerical score, as opposed to the performance level, to track student performance over time, and calls attention to the student's percentile as a measure of how a student performed compared to others in the same grade. A student may have had a "proficient" score, for example, the second-highest category, and still may have landed in the 95th percentile.

Focus on future

New approaches to teaching are behind the eventual switch from the WKCE to the Smarter Balanced Assessment program.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium "is a state-led consortium developing assessments to the Common Core State Standards" in reading and math that are "designed to help prepare all students to graduate high school college- and career-ready," the group's website says. Wisconsin is one of 45 states that have adopted the Common Core Standards.

Erenberger said the Common Core approach is a method of encouraging "deeper thinking," and bringing critical-thinking skills to lower grade levels, decreasing the emphasis on learning by rote.

"Instead of having teachers being the experts and the keepers of knowledge, it's going to engage students in their learning," she said.

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