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Wauwatosa School District wraps its head around a new scoring rubric

May 1, 2013

The school testing world will become more confusing before it gets clearer. Students who took the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Evaluation last fall have received their scores in recent days and many of them have found that their performances had plummeted.

They may have answered more questions right than they did last year, but the state has changed scoring standards, and many may have found that their rating dropped from "advanced" to "proficient," or "proficient" to "basic."

Using a new rubric to better measure what it calls "college and career readiness," the state Department of Public Instruction changed the "cut scores" - the scores that divide students into performance levels - to better match national standards.

Not so advanced

What this means is that last year, more than half of Wauwatosa students taking the WKCE scored at the highest level, "advanced," in reading and math, while this year just 12 percent in reading, and about 23 percent in math reached that level.

Still, district administrators found reason to be encouraged. Applying the new, stricter standards to past years' data, an analysis shows that since the 2008-2009 school year, Tosa students improved overall in math, from 64.2 percent scoring proficient or advanced to 66.8 percent this year. Compared to the entire state, Tosa was 18 percentage points higher in the number rated proficient or advanced on the most recent test.

Reading tests paint a similar picture. From 47.23 percent scoring proficient or advanced in 2008-2009, reading scores improved to 52.2 percent of test-takers hitting the top two categories in the November test. Wauwatosa again easily bested the state, by 16 percentage points in the November test.

Neighborly comparisons

Comparing Wauwatosa scores to a couple of sister districts gives a more mixed picture.

Using scores from all grade levels tested, Wauwatosa had 51.6 percent scoring proficient or advanced in reading. In the Hamilton-Sussex school district, their reading was only slightly better, with about 52 percent scoring at the top two levels. But math showed stark differences, with Tosa at 66 percent, and Hamilton-Sussex at over 75 percent.

Tosa had a similar relationship to the Elmbrook School District - reading scores were close, but math gave Elmbrook a 20 percentage point lead.

Are these comparisons fair?

"Ideally, it's good to be able to make a similar demographic comparison," said Beth Erenberger, Tosa's director of student learning. "But when you can't do that, those people who are our customers are going to look at data. So it matters to us that we are competitive to our neighboring schools. So, is it always a fair comparison? No, because if demographics aren't alike, then it's not a … head-to-head comparison."

While Elmbrook and Hamilton are districts of a similar size to Wauwatosa, the Tosa school district has a much larger population of "economically disadvantaged" students than the other districts - two to three times as many. Which may, or may not, make a difference.

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