Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Assessments Showing Positive Student Achievement

Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Instruction and
Amy Sheridan, District Assessment Coordinator

Last spring, students in grades three through eight in the School District of Janesville took the new state achievement test in English Language Arts and Mathematics known as the Badger Exam. Students with significant cognitive disabilities took the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) assessments. Both of these new online assessments are more rigorous measures of our students’ academic performance. These new assessments replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE) and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (WAA-SwD).
For the first time, all 11th-grade students in the School District of Janesville took the ACT, which replaced the 10th-grade Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. This is the same ACT assessment that students nationwide take as a college admissions exam and has a solid foundation in measuring college and career readiness. Historically, about 58 percent of SDJ students have taken the ACT. A small percentage of our juniors took the Dynamic Learning Maps assessment, which measures the academic progress of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Typically, results from the state test guide the district in school improvement planning, identifying where we need to focus and improve, as well as where we can celebrate the growth and achievement of our students.  The results are also reported in proficiency categories and used for accountability determinations at the school, district and state levels, as required by state and federal laws.  Federal requirements are to test at least 95% of all students in the specified grade levels.  The School District of Janesville’s overall test participation rate was 98.5%.  

The Badger Exam was designed to compare a student’s achievement against a new set of standards, skill levels, and areas of knowledge known as the Common Core State Standards.  The Science and Social Studies tests (also given last school year) are aligned to the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards.  Teachers have been working diligently with balancing the two different sets of standards into their instruction as we prepare for these assessments.

Considerable controversy erupted last spring with the rocky rollout of the new test resulting in widespread criticism from parents, school officials, and state policy makers.  This reaction eventually resulted in Governor Walker signing a bill last May prohibiting the use of the Badger Exam results for school accountability purposes. Specific criticisms centered on the test development, problems associated with technical features not working as promised, and the content of the test. Another significant outcry centered on the extreme length of the test. All of these factors contributed to the demise of the Badger Exam and called for a new test to be developed for administration in the spring of 2016.

Overall, the School District of Janesville had assessed 4,092 students on the Badger and Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) exams in grades three through eight. Among those students, preliminary results indicate that 50.7 percent of students were proficient or advanced in English Language Arts compared to 51.2 percent at the state level. In Mathematics, 37.4 percent of students were proficient or advanced compared to 43.7 percent statewide.  More detailed results will be forthcoming including school, grade level, and sub-group scores when the DPI certifies this information. The DPI has indicated they need more time with the data to ensure accuracy of the information. 

At 11th grade, 781 students took the ACT or DLM. The ACT is the same college admissions exam taken by students nationwide. The DLM is an alternate assessment given to Wisconsin students with severe cognitive disabilities and is used in grades three through 11. Overall preliminary results show 37.4 percent of School District of Janesville students achieved at the proficient or advanced performance levels in English Language Arts compared to 45.7 percent statewide. In Mathematics, 27 percent were proficient or advanced compared to 35.9 percent of juniors statewide. 

Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment noted that the district previously was able to make use of the state testing data (WSAS) as a strategic tool for school improvement; however the new Badger Exam data presents a number of unique challenges associated with this effort.  For example, the 2014-15 assessments were taken in the spring (rather than the fall), the Badger Exam tests different standards, uses different cut scores, and combines reading and language arts into one score rather than separating the disciplines. All of these factors make valid comparisons to previous years’ data not possible.  It would be like trying to compare “apples to oranges.” Also, the length and style of test administration were very different from the WKCE test.  

The situation only gets more confusing this spring (2016) when students in the state of Wisconsin will take yet a different test other than the outlawed Badger test.  This will mark the third new test in three years. Given this precarious state of affairs in state testing, it is important to continue to collect solid and consistent evidence that students in the School District of Janesville are learning. For that reason, the district is using another shorter assessment to chart more consistent student learning trends over time. This new assessment is called the STAR assessment.

The STAR assessment measures student performance and growth in reading and math and is given three times a year—fall, winter and spring.  Growth data from the STAR assessment has been incorporated into individual School Improvement Plans, Board of Education goals and individual teacher evaluation goals. Preliminary winter STAR data is very positive especially in the area of math. While the Badger Test is a “one and done assessment,” the district will still look carefully at what we can glean from that data to ensure that students are making the expected achievement in math, reading, and on the ACT.

Continued efforts at the high school level need to stay focused on improving ACT performance for all students—we can do better! The expansion of Advanced Placement courses and the increased number of students taking those courses is a very hopeful sign and positive step.  In addition, the increased rigor of the secondary math curriculum and the new district STEM Initiative should yield better future test results. Since the DPI is continuing to “crunch” the current test data, additional information including specific sub-group scores and individual school reports will be forthcoming. When this data becomes available, the district will review the information and make changes and improvements as necessary. 

The DPI has signed a six-year contract with Data Recognition Corporation for the development of the new Forward Wisconsin Exam.  The DPI has indicated that the new exam will be a customized exam with test items developed and reviewed by Wisconsin educators.  Since the new Forward Wisconsin Exam is unique to Wisconsin, our state will not be able to compare testing results from those of other states.

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