New standard undercuts Superior's proficiencyThe Superior school district is back to square one with the latest results of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Superior school district is back to square one with the latest results of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
After years of progress, student scores in math and reading plummeted with the introduction of new benchmarks statewide this year.
“It’s kind of like your kids get in line to get on a ride at the fair, and they get all the way up there and then somebody says, ‘Oh, sorry, you’ve got to be this tall,’” said Barb Pezze, data and assessment coordinator for the Superior school district.
The new cut scores used this year are “devastating,” Pezze said, not just for Superior but for all districts.
Students in grades 3-8 and 10 took the same WKCE test in the fall, but the definition of proficiency for reading and math changed to align with the National Assessment of Educational Progress. With the scoring change, the number of students ranked proficient or advanced fell dramatically statewide.
At the third-grade level, the state average in reading went from about 80 percent in 2011 to 35 percent this year using the new scores. Sixth-graders saw the biggest drop, going from 84.3 percent under the old system to 34.7 this year — a 49.6 percentage point decrease.
The average decline in reading proficiency across all grade levels was 45.8 percentage points.
Student scores also suffered in math. Overall, proficiency levels dropped an average of 30 percentage points in Wisconsin. Eighth-graders fared the worst, plunging from 79.4 percent in 2011 to 44.9 percent with the new scores.
“Certainly looking at the effect of the new cut scores, it’s depressing,” Pezze said. “It’s not really reflective to take this one-time, dipstick measure — that isn’t even an accurate measure right now — and rate to be able say our schools are being successful or they’re in need of improvement.”
“I think teachers really feel hit in that regard,” said Mary Anne Korsch, director of curriculum and instruction for the Superior school district. “They’re working hard. They are working on their instruction. They’re trying to digest these Common Core State Standards. They’re looking at good, high-quality research-based intervention; there’s so many things that are moving forward … When we have so much good going on, it does feel deflating to take a look at those new cut scores.”
For Superior students, the difference between old and new is dramatic.
The district’s numbers in reading flip-flopped, with the number of students testing below standard now exceeding the number at or above standard.
Superior’s third-graders led the district, with about 42 percent scoring proficient or advanced. Their score is seven points higher than the state average, but it is well below what it could have been. Using the old scores, more than 80 percent of Superior third-graders would have scored proficient or advanced.
In eighth grade, only 39 percent of Superior’s students received satisfactory scores. More than 89 percent would have tested at or above standard if the previous scores had applied.
“Basically what we’re starting out with in the district is a brand-new baseline,” Pezze said.
“I think that’s the frustrating thing about education in general,” Korsch said. “We have a few years under our belt. We feel that we can demonstrate growth, we can draw some conclusions about where we need to shore up our needs — and then we have a new set of rules imposed on us.”
The state no longer provides data based on old scores, but for its purposes, the Superior school district continued mapping progress with the old system.
“What we’ve done here in the district is we’ve maintained both pictures so we can see, had we maintained the old cut scores, what would have been our growth?” Pezze said.
With her calculations, Pezze said, the district can document growth.
She used last year’s sixth-graders as an example. In 2011, the sixth-graders tested 80 percent proficient or advanced in reading. This year, the same group of children improved to 87 percent proficient or advanced as seventh-graders.
Likewise last year’s seventh-graders went from 87 percent in reading to 89 percent this year as eighth-graders.
“The calculations that I do here, maintaining the old cut scores in our data base, allows us to accurately measure whether those kids are making gains, and they are,” Pezze said. “I don’t need the state data any more to tell me how we’re doing. I need to know, ‘are the kids improving?’”
Measuring Superior against state averages, the school district did well in third and fourth grade but struggled in the upper grade levels.
Language arts and reading proved the biggest concerns. Grades 4, 8 and 10 trailed the state average significantly in language arts, and only the third- and fourth-grade classes exceeded the state average in reading.
Crystal Hintzman, who takes over as director of curriculum and instruction this summer, said the decline in Superior’s language arts and reading scores can be attributed, in part, to a change in instruction.
Superior began work to align its curriculum with the new Common Core State Standards about three years ago. The district did not fully implement the new standards until 2011-12, and this year efforts have doubled.
“Our focus in the area of writing has shifted to focus on the three areas of writing within the Common Core — informational, opinion and narrative; whereas in the past we were often focusing much more heavily on just narrative writing,” Hintzman said. “So our shift in instruction is now matching the Common Core standards, but the one piece of writing they do on the WKCE to get that language arts score is often just a narrative piece, which is not what we’re spending the majority of our instructional time on any longer.”
Looking at data from the district, Pezze said she can see a direct correlation between the new standards and student test scores. As the curriculum began to diverge from the test material, scores decreased.
A new assessment aligned to the Common Core State Standards is scheduled to replace the WKCE in 2014-15. When the new test is unveiled, Hintzman said, Superior’s instruction will align with areas of assessment.
“I think the question that we don’t know the answer to yet is what are those cut scores going to be?” Hintzman said. “How high is that bar going to be set for students to be proficient and advanced?”
Superior High School
Superior’s 10th-grade students had the lowest scores in the district. For the second straight year, they fell behind the state in all five categories tested. Superior trailed the state only in language arts in both 2010 and 2009.
On average, the Superior 10th-graders tested 6.7 percent lower than their peers statewide. The 10th-graders’ best showing was in science, where they trailed the state average by 3.8 percent.
Their worst performance was in math. Only 34.9 percent of Superior 10th-graders tested proficient or advanced compared to 44.4 percent statewide, a difference of 9.5 percentage points.
Korsch said the district has improvements to make, but encouraged parents and community members to visit the high school to see first-hand the work being done.
“The day-to-day activities in a school will verify that kids are making gains, that teachers are helping move their own professional performance forward, and that we can expect that as this new Common Core is fully implemented and it is our measure of student performance, we will continue to see good gains and growth,” Korsch said.
Maple school district
The Maple school district did well with the new test standards. Students trailed the state in only six categories overall. In three of those, the school district fell less than one percentage point behind the state average. Maple students trailed by less than two points in two other categories: third-grade math (1.1 percent) and fifth-grade reading (1.6 percent).
The only category in which the Maple school district trailed significantly was eighth-grade social studies. The Maple students tested 3.9 percent below the state average.