Greenfield - Whitnall school officials and parents are used to seeing 75 to 80 percent of students at least proficient in the five subjects tested in the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.
With new standards introduced this year, they had to face the fact that less than half the students are proficient in reading and barely two out of three are proficient in math this time around.
What happened to Whitnall WKCE test scores happened to scores in schools all over Wisconsin. That's because what could be called the "passing grade" is higher this year. Last year, 82 percent of Whitnall students were at least proficient in reading compared with only 40 percent this year. Similarly, 77 percent were proficient in math, compared with 62 percent this year.
It's all because Wisconsin adopted the Common Core Standards, as did several other states. Those standards will enable Wisconsin students to be compared with students across the country or even across the world.
The higher "passing grade" that the Common Core Standards bring has been applied to the old WKCE tests in reading and math.
To meet the challenge, schools are updating their curriculums to reflect the new standards.
Superintendent Lowell Holtz said the Whitnall schools have been moving toward the Common Core since he came to the district three years ago.
"The writing was on the wall," he said. "Almost all inservices and planning are dedicated to figuring out how best to teach the Common Core."
Holtz paid tribute to the School Board for providing teachers the time to get together and work on the switchover. "The School Board was very proactive," he said.
The results of those efforts haven't shown up in the WKCE scores because the WKCE hasn't moved toward the new standards, he said. When the WKCE is replaced in 2015 by the new Smarter Balanced Assessment that is based on the Common Core, Holtz expects scores to go up.
Despite the scores being lower than people are used to, he said, "We've gotten nothing negative at all from parents."
They realize it's the higher standard and not the kids, Holtz said.
For example, all Edgerton Elementary School students were proficient in reading last year with the old scoring. This year only half were, he said.
"It's the exact same kids and the exact same test," he said.
The lower scores don't mean that the schools are not preparing students well enough to get into college, Holtz said. Colleges don't look at state testing standards of this variety, instead opting for ACT and SAT college entrance exam scores, at grade points and at student admissions essays, he explained.
Overall, he supports Wisconsin raising the bar and going to the Common Core Standards.
"The change is absolutely in the best interests of the kids of Wisconsin," he said. "Raising the bar will make our kids more competitive not only at the state level but at the national level.
"It's a fun exciting time to be involved in education," he added.
- Jane Ford-Stewart
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