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New State Report Cards
New State Report Cards
Some of you may still have copies of your school report cards. My elementary report cards were made of cardstock housed in a manila-colored sleeve, and held my name written in cursive across the front. The cursive was at the hand of an elementary educator so it was impeccable. All of the slants, loops, and curves were in their proper places.
Inside the subjects were written in a row with the grade marks listed horizontally showing progress. The only comments appeared as a short paragraph at the bottom. There was no room for negotiation. The teacher’s opinion was the rule. As children, we all hoped for the best.
Later this month the State of Wisconsin will release a School Report Card for each school in the state. As educators, we are all hoping for the best. Menomonie will receive eight report cards, one for each building. You will probably see headlines comparing the various scores.
The report cards are not intended for comparison purposes. Student demographics are not the same school to school. Rather, they are intended to help districts understand how their schools are doing and where they can make improvements.
Each school will receive a “score’—called an accountability index— on a scale of 0-100. The accountability score will be based upon four priority areas:
- Student achievement in mathematics and reading on state tests.
- Individual student achievement growth from year-to-year.
- Closing gaps or how a school is doing when comparing certain groups against one another. For example, they will compare how students from low socio-economic backgrounds do against their peers.
- On-track/post-secondary readiness, including graduation rates, ACT participation and performance, and attendance rates.
Each school will be placed into one of five categories ranging from Significantly Exceeds Expectations to Fails to Meet Expectations. It is important to note that the numeric score is not a percent score, so it is not the same as grades. The vast majority of Wisconsin schools are likely to end up somewhere in the middle.
Along with the report card, each of our schools will be provided with detailed information designed to help them set improvement targets. The information also includes student data in math and reading that has been “Naeptized.” It will show the percentage of children identified as proficient.
“Naeptized” is a nonsense word, fondly used by educators, to describe the new accountability measures across the nation. NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The readiness benchmarks set by NAEP are significantly higher than the former cut scores set by the State of Wisconsin. As a result, the number of children at each school that will be identified as proficient will likely be cut in half.
Other states across the nation who have already made the transition have seen the same drop in scores. It does not mean students who were advanced are suddenly doing worse. It means that the bar has been set much higher. The new bar means advanced becomes the new proficient and proficient becomes the new basic.
You might draw the conclusion that the only thing that matters is math and reading. Nothing could be further from the truth. The State of Wisconsin still maintains state standards and requirements for all other program areas. The school report cards are only one piece of data used for measuring our success as a school district. We also set local student performance objectives in art, music, social studies, science, and other program areas.
At the state level, math and reading are the only two areas consistently tested in all grades three through eight. Thus, they are the only pieces of consistent data available to the state. The new statewide balanced assessment system will not begin until 2014. However, when it begins, the testing will look very different, be broader in content, and will raise the bar even more.
I had the chance to review a few sample questions in the new format. One of the eighth grade samples begins with a four-paragraph explanation of Kevin and Shana Johnson’s gas bill. The narrative discusses heating degree-days, energy efficiency, home improvement projects, and provides a sample energy bill.
The 8th graders are then asked to assess the cost-effectiveness of the home repair projects by comparing all of the variables, researching typical gas bills over two years, and providing evidence for their answer. There were no fill-in-the-bubble-with-a-number-two-pencil options!
The school report cards will probably be released October 22. The state has already moved the date a couple of times. Our building principals are prepared to answer questions and guide parents in their interpretation.
Our schools and teachers are used to accountability measures, media hype about test scores, and state reports. We use the information to look for opportunities to improve and we continue doing what we do best—educating the whole child.
In a fair world it would be an even playing field. We also acknowledge that it is not. There will always be schools with more money, less poverty, or more of something else. Increasingly, educators will tell you that none of it is an excuse. There are schools with less money and even more poverty doing amazing things for kids.
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