In a move hailed by both state superintendent Tony Evers and Gov. Scott Walker, the state is implementing a new accountability system that includes public report cards that rate schools’ effectiveness.
The state has received a flexibility waiver from the tougher provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law to establish the system. According to the state Department of Public Instruction, the report cards will consider student achievement, student growth, closing gaps, and on-track and postsecondary readiness in rating calculations for each school.
School level report cards will be released in the fall, the department has announced, and student level data will be reported for the first time in the spring of 2013 based on student testing this coming November.
“Our new accountability system is based on higher standards and considers many aspects of student and school performance,” Evers said. “We take this broader perspective so the public can tell how our schools are doing and to provide practical information to guide how schools can improve.”
Evers said Wisconsin is number one nationally in graduating high school students but the state could not afford to rest on its laurels.
“In our ever-changing world, we must constantly enhance educational opportunities for our students,” he said.
Gov. Scott Walker also lauded the effort.
“I support creating a transparent education system that ultimately evaluates all publicly funded schools in Wisconsin,” Walker said. “This new system will empower parents, allowing them to make education-related decisions based on reliable and uniform data. This school accountability data will help us provide assistance to schools that aren’t performing adequately; similarly, it will make it easier to replicate educational successes.”
The school report cards were developed by a collaborative, bipartisan task force and are designed to provide parents and educators critical information about school and student performance.
Part of the new system includes publishing Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) results, the department states. Those tests will now use more rigorous proficiency levels based on national college- and career-readiness expectations.
The DPI says state-level data on WKCE reading and mathematics results offer a preliminary picture of student achievement that will appear on school report cards this fall.
The data shows that 35.8 percent of all tested students are proficient on the WKCE reading assessment administered in November 2011, the department states, and 48.1 percent of all students are proficient on the mathematics assessment. The results are lower than the percentages of students who were proficient or advanced on the WKCE under the old proficiency levels, but are above national averages on the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.
“Our goal in raising proficiency levels for the WKCE is to better measure what it means to be ready for college and career,” Evers said. “While adjusting to new, higher expectations will take time and effort, this is a necessary change that will ultimately help our schools better serve all students and links with our introduction of new standards, new assessments, and other reforms.”
The four priority areas – student achievement, student growth, closing gaps, and ontrack and postsecondary readiness— will contribute to an overall accountability score.
Accountability ratings on a scale of zero to 100 will place schools in one of five categories, the department states: significantly exceeds expectations, exceeds expectations, meets expectations, meets few expectations, and fails to meet expectations. The new accountability system also includes support measures for schools that are struggling and calls for sharing best practices from high-performing schools.
Wisconsin submitted an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Request in February and had been working with the federal education department and a peer review panel since mid-April to clarify details of the plan.
Not everybody happy
Not everybody is supportive of the waivers, however, especially Republicans such as John Kline, a Minnesota congressman who is chairman of the House education committee. He says the administration is performing an end run around Congress.
“As you know, I have significant concerns about the administration’s waivers plan,” Kline told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in February. “ . . . It’s a temporary band-aid on a problem that must be resolved through legislation – not executive fiat. Right now, states facing budget strains are dedicating limited resources to meet new requirements dictated by the Secretary of Education that could easily be changed by Congress or the next administration.”
Republicans say Obama is granting waivers to those states who agree to implement his proposed education reforms – reforms he has so far failed to move through Congress – and which give the federal government more control over education.
Others say the reforms are not really reforms at all but a relaxation of No Child Left Behind Standards. For example, placing schools in five broad categories of performance replaces a score based on adequate yearly progress based on reading and math proficiency targets. Those targets sought 100 percent proficiency by 2014.
Immediate requirements for underperforming schools to improve were also waived, and now the worst-performing schools and those with the largest subgroup achievement gaps will have four years to show strong improvements through plans approved by the state.
Critics also contend that core measurements will now focus less on overall student proficiency scores and more on closing gaps and year-to-year improvements, which they say make teachers less accountable than under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org