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WKCE exam yields different results

April 15, 2014

Greenfield — It was a mixed bag for Greenfield students when the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results were released last week.

The Whitnall School District that serves part of Greenfield saw increases in scores in all five subjects the WKCE tests and was well above state averages. But the Greenfield School District struggled just below the state averages in all five. Scores slipped in three subjects compared with the year before, were relatively the same in one but managed to rise significantly in the crucial area of reading, although it still trailed the state average slightly.

The WKCE measures the percentage of students working at or above grade level, labeling them either proficient or advanced. Students statewide took the WKCEs last fall in reading and math in grades three through eight and in grade 10. In addition, language arts, including spelling and grammar, plus science and social studies were tested in grades four, eight and 10.

The goal is for all students to be either proficient or advanced. That has been a challenge since the 2012-13 school year when the state Department of Public Instruction raised the "passing grade" students need to be deemed proficient or advanced in reading and math. Raising the bar was part of the state's changeover to the more rigorous state test that is aligned with the new Common Core standards to which the state is moving. That new test, dubbed Smarter Balanced, will start in spring 2015, taking the place of the WKCE.

With the new higher bar, only 43.3 percent of Whitnall students were deemed proficient or advanced in reading, but that's still significantly higher than the previous year's 40 percent. The subject where the most students were working at or above grade level was in social studies where 89.2 percent were proficient or advanced, up from 87.9 percent the previous year. But unlike the reading scores, state educators have not raised the bar for social studies.

Whitnall's improved scores, and the fact that they remain above the state average, are a tribute to the efforts of many people, in addition to the students, said Anthony Brazouski, Whitnall's executive director of academic achievement.

"These results are indicative of the dedicated staff, students, parents and community of the Whitnall School District," he said in a news release announcing the results. "The district remains committed to ensuring rigorous and relevant learning experiences for all students, kindergarten through 12th grade. "

In the Greenfield District, officials are looking forward to better performance in math with the adoption last fall of new math approaches for elementary and middle school students, said Patrice Ball, secondary director of assessment and instruction.

The elementary students are now doing an investigations type of math where teachers don't tell them how to solve problems as much as let them figure them out themselves. With teachers coaching and guiding, the students discuss various approaches and eventually come up with the right ones. Because investigations showed so much promise when it was piloted in the 2012-13 school year, it was adopted for all elementary children last fall, Ball said.

One of the things teachers liked about this new instructional method is that it promotes the logical approach and deep math understanding that the Smarter Balance tests will look for starting next year, she said.

The middle school also has a new math approach called Big Ideas that balances the same investigative focus with the more traditional approach with teachers instructing how to solve the problems.

Because the WKCEs are given in fall, there was not enough time for the impact of either math program to be felt, Ball said. Math percentages stayed relatively unchanged in the WKCEs for 2013-14.

The high school also will switch to a more in-depth math learning approach, but so far textbooks are not available that will get students where teachers want them to be, Ball said.

Because reading is at the heart of all subjects, the Greenfield schools put a strong emphasis on it in every subject. The result was significantly more students either proficient or advanced in reading, Ball said.

But there may have been a price, she said. The percentage of students at or above grade level fell significantly in science and slipped in language arts.

"Sometimes it's difficult to balance literacy and keep up with content," Ball said. "We're trying to right that.

"We don't want to give up something for something else."

WKCE TEST RESULTS

Percentage of Students Scoring Proficient or Advanced on 2013-14 WKCE

 

 

Reading

 

Math

 

Science

 

Language Arts

 

Social Studies

 

Whitnall

 

43.3 (40 percent previous year)

64.1 (62.3)

83.2 (82.9)

79.8 (76.8)

89.2 (87.9)

Greenfield

 

35.6 (33.8)

46.4 (46.3)

75.2 (79)

68.4 (70.6)

81.9 (83.7)

West Allis

 

32.7 (32.8)

46.8 (50)

69 (73.5)

67.3 (68.5)

80.8 (84.7)

Statewide

 

36.6 (36.2)

48.6 (48.1)

76.5 (76.7)

70 (69.5)

82.8 (84.2)

 

*Kohler

 

59.7 (63.2)

73 (71.1)

93.5 (97)

94 (91)

97 (95)

* Kohler was added for comparison because it is traditionally one of the highest-performing schools in the state.

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