State superintendent talks educationState Superintendent Tony Evers was in Superior last week to meet with local educators and discuss Wisconsin’s path forward as the state deals with deep cuts to public education.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
State Superintendent Tony Evers was in Superior last week to meet with local educators and discuss Wisconsin’s path forward as the state deals with deep cuts to public education.
It was Evers' first visit to Superior as state superintendent since he was elected in 2009.
“I think there’s some outstanding things going on in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I know the budget crisis is significant and it’s impacting our schools, but the fact of the matter is once you kind of set that aside and go into the classroom, I’ve just been so proud of the teachers and the school people of Wisconsin, how they reacted under a horrible situation.”
In a forum on Oct. 4, teachers and other school employees met in Superior to discuss the state of Wisconsin’s educational system with Evers. The state superintendent said the concerns he heard in Superior echoed those raised by educators across the state.
Teachers worried budget cuts could force districts to limit subjects like art and music. They also wanted assurances the state would push to provide students with a comprehensive education, valuing reading and math skills alongside critical thinking and ingenuity.
Another issue teachers raised was the need to get parents and families involved in schools. Evers said it is an age old problem.
“I’ve been in public education 36 years, and that was a problem 36 years ago,” Evers said.
Difficult economic times only compound the issue today. With both parents often working just to keep food on the table, it can become difficult to dedicate time to a child’s education, Evers said.
“I think what teachers are sensing is it’s even more difficult now than ever to get parents engaged in their kids’ education.”
Evers also discussed Wisconsin’s progress in adopting the Common Core State Standards, which set clearly defined guidelines for curriculum, instruction and assessment.
He said the new Common Core State Standards are a game-changer and will allow for more meaningful state-to-state comparison. Wisconsin and West Virginia were the first states to adopt the new standards in June 2010, and since then 42 more states and two territories have signed on to do the same.
Minnesota is one of six states that has yet to adopt the standards. The others are Montana, Nebraska, Texas, Alaska and Virginia.
Along with the new standards, Wisconsin is also planning to introduce a new statewide assessment to replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations by 2014. Wisconsin was awarded $10.5 million in a four-year federal grant this year as part of a 28-state consortium working to develop new assessments.
“It’s really going to be a pretty swell deal. It’s going to be online, and it’s going to be adaptive,” Evers said. “Right now, the test only tests within a certain range. So if you’re doing really, really well, it doesn’t show up. Conversely if you’re doing very, very poorly, it doesn’t show up on the test.”
The new test is designed to better capture a student’s true level of proficiency.
“As you answer questions well, the questions get harder. If you miss one, they’ll get easier,” Evers said. “So it gives parents and teachers, and the students themselves, a true feel for where they are academically. It’s going to kind of revolutionize test-taking and testing.”
MaryAnne Korsch, director of curriculum and instruction in the Superior school district, welcomes the changes in Wisconsin’s testing.
When it was announced two years ago that the WKCE would be phased out as Wisconsin’s statewide assessment, Korsch hoped the new testing system would show significant improvement. She wanted to receive test results in a more timely manner and wanted the new assessment model to measure student growth throughout the school year.
“Both those things will happen,” Evers said. “We’ll still have a standardized test that’s computer-based that will be given within a timespan — a relatively big one — but we’ll also be having those benchmark tests that will be available for districts to do both.”
Evers made time Oct. 5 to speak with Superior school district administrator Janna Stevens about the district’s plans and concerns. One item Stevens mentioned was Superior’s decision to roll out its own benchmark assessment system to prepare before the state launches its version in 2014.
“They’re beginning that process now,” Evers said. “They’re purchasing a vendor test just so that they will be ready for when our tests come down the pipe, which is a really smart move.”
Korsch confirmed that the district is expanding its assessment system to gather data about student achievement in relation to the Common Core State Standards.
“This week we will be piloting the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) in a few math classrooms, with the intention of expanding those math assessments to all students grades 2-7 and 9,” Korsch said. After administrators ensure the system is working seamlessly, it will be expanded by test all students — hopefully by this winter, she said.
“So this pilot is just to ensure that everything works well,” Korsch said. “Once the math assessments are under way, we’ll gradually expand to include more subject areas. We’ve informally heard that the ‘new WKCE’ will be a lot like MAP.”
Also under way at the state level is an effort to create a new accountability system for schools and districts. Evers is working together with Gov. Scott Walker on the initiative.
“I probably disagree with a whole bunch of things that he believes in, but this is one area where we have found some common ground,” Evers said. “We’re working with a group of 30 people from across the state on creating a new way to hold schools accountable that’s really fair. Right now we’re kind of locked in by No Child Left Behind.”
Evers said schools will be judged not on whether they can reach a certain benchmark but by academic growth. Under NCLB, a school could make great gains during a school year, but if it fell below the predetermined benchmark, it would still be deemed failing.
“Schools will get credit for making growth every year,” Evers said. “And some other changes will really move away from a punitive system to a system that, if it identifies a school that’s needing improvement, we are able to support them to get better instead of just shaming them, which is kind of the way it works right now.”
The issue of educator evaluation is also being discussed, and Evers said he’ll have some recommendations on the matter by the end of the calendar year.