Wisconsin switches gear on testing again

Wisconsin switches gear on testing again

(Wis.) Elementary and middle school students will take a different state exam for the third time in three years under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget.

The spending plan removes funding for the new Smarter Balanced assessments students took for the first time this spring. It calls for new standardized testing and gives school districts the option of dropping Common Core academic standards, on which this year’s exams were based.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Tuesday on some of the Republican governor’s proposals but the debate was expected to extend beyond press time.

Adopted in 2010 by Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, the Common Core State Standards for math and English-language arts have come under increasing scrutiny here. Walker, a one-time supporter of Common Core and the Smarter Balanced testing program, changed course in 2014, asking the Legislature to repeal Common Core,  saying Wisconsin should create its own academic standards.

So far, legislation aimed at doing that has failed, and more conservative lawmakers say Walker hasn’t done enough to force the issue.

Walker’s budget plan would prohibit the state superintendent from forcing local school districts to adopt Common Core academic standards – although, by law, schools already have the option of not using the standards. DPI officials have reported, however, that all but one district in the state have adopted Common Core.

The Smarter Balanced assessment, which replaced the Badger exam as the state’s standardized test, was given for the first time this spring to third through eighth graders for reading and English language arts. Tests created by a different vendor but also aligned to Common Core are given to high school students.

Walker’s call for a new standardized assessment has state education officials scrambling to find a replacement for next year – the DPI earlier this month launched a formal search for a new test, soliciting bids in case the governor’s proposal is adopted. The request reportedly seeks bids for an assessment that is aligned to Wisconsin’s state standards but does not specifically name Common Core.

Developed by a group of school leaders, the standards were created with the idea that students across the country, no matter where they live, would be on similar learning tracks as they progress through their education.

But when President Barack Obama offered financial incentives to states that agreed to use one of two national assessments aligned to Common Core, political backlash led many states to rethink going forward with the standards and associated tests.

Nationwide this school year, 28 states including Wisconsin administered year-end tests that were designed by one of two state consortia – either Smarter Balanced or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARRC).

Other states have elected to use different exams, often based on academic standards that they have adapted or modified from Common Core.

...read more