Wisconsin public school students last month took their third different standardized test in three years.
The changes in tests make efforts to gauge improvement, or decline, difficult, if not impossible. Different tests. Different preparation. Different results.
Not only have public schools lost the ability to track year-over-year comparisons, school teachers and administrators have wasted time in creating a test tied to Common Core state standards and learning how to administer it. The state has also spent millions in the process.
Presumably, you can compare against schools in your district, if you have more than one elementary, middle and/or high school, but you can’t gauge how schools are progressing.
It won’t be until results from next year’s tests are released that you can compare year-over-year results and then your sample size is only two school years. It’s difficult to come to conclusions based on any historical context.
So what have we learned? Nothing that will help our students this year, but hopefully we’ve learned not to play politics with education.
Public schools had been using the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam since the 1996-97 school year. Those tests were changed starting in the early 2000s to meet federal mandates and again in 2002-03 to comply with the No Child Left Behind act.
Schools started using the Badger Exam in the 2014-15 school year. (It was first called Smarter Balanced Assessment exam.) It was designed to test students on Common Core state standards that all but one school district in the state had adopted since 2010.
However, support of the test eroded as support for Common Core became political. Tea party Republicans saw the standards as federal overreach and a loss of local control, even though no school district was required to adopt it. One misconception was that the federal government was dictating curriculum. That wasn’t the case. It was up to each school to develop a curriculum that met the standards of the Common Core.
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The makers of the Badger Exam didn’t help matters any. The web-based exam was supposed to adjust the difficulty of test questions based on a student’s ability. That never worked.
So last summer legislators flunked the Badger Exam and forced schools to come up with a new test.
Enter the Wisconsin Forward Exam, which students took this spring. The test is aligned to Common Core standards in English and mathematics. It is given in grades 3 through 8 for English Language Arts and mathematics, grades 4 and 8 for science, and grades 4, 8 and 10 for social studies.
We hope that the state has better luck with this exam and that it doesn’t fall prey to prevailing political winds. That proposition would prove costly, both educationally and financially — the state agreed to a 10-year, $79.8 million contract with Data Recognition Corp. in March to create the Wisconsin Forward Exam.
Standardized tests have many opponents who don’t see them as an accurate reflection of how students are doing academically. We believe they represent a part of a school’s and student’s performance and should be viewed as such. Results also need to be reported in a more timely matter instead of waiting for up to a year to find out how students did on the exam.
However, when you’re constantly changing the test, you lose the ability to gauge any kind of performance.
And if you’re going to spend tens of millions of dollars on a state standardized test, let’s make it worthwhile and not switch every year based on party politics.
As we are in an election year, you should ask your candidates their stance on the Forward Exam. Do they support it? Are they planning to change the test? Do they support any major changes in education in our public schools?
Listen to their answers and consider the implications of any more changes — not the political ones, but the educational ones. Use the latter to guide your vote.