Wisconsin does away with standardized test

A 17-year-old statewide test used to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law will be replaced with a broader approach to judging how well Wisconsin students are performing, state superintendent Tony Evers said Thursday.

Education leaders heralded the move as a step toward more accountability. It may also help put Wisconsin in a better position to compete with other states for $4.35 billion in federal education stimulus money under the government's "Race to the Top" reform program.

"It's very good news," said Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Districts. The announcement also drew praise from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which has long argued for moving away from a single test to measure student achievement.

Those groups have criticized the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams as being ineffective at measuring how well students are performing. The tests will be replaced over the next two to three years with a system that combines state, district and classroom assessments, Evers said in a statement.

That new system, which was recommended by a task force that studied statewide tests, will be more responsive to students, teachers and parents, Evers said. It will also meet state and federal accountability laws, he said.

The new tests likely will be computer-based with multiple opportunities to gauge student progress during the year, the state Department of Public Instruction said.

A computerized test, in which teachers can find out instantly how well students are learning and where the shortfalls are, is far better than the current system in which tests are given in the fall and the results aren't known until near the end of the school year, Turner said.

"The shortcomings with the existing WKCE are well known," said John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. "It's actually a very hopeful sign that a new measuring device that will hopefully be more timely in helping teachers to take corrective actions with the students."

The current WKCE tests began in 1992 and were given to 430,000 students in grades 3-8 and 10 last fall. The test initially was required as part of a state law, but beginning in 2002 was used to comply with No Child Left Behind.

No new test items for WKCE are being developed, the state education department said. Instead, requests for proposals on a range of new assessments will be pursued, including ways to reduce the $10 million cost of WKCE, the department said.

Better tests may also help Wisconsin's chances at scoring some of the funds available under "Race to the Top," the program being touted by President Barack Obama's administration as the largest school reform program in history. It aims to improve student achievement, reduce the achievement gap between whites and blacks and raise graduation rates.

States are angling for a shot at the money by meeting broad requirements set out by the U.S. Department of Education, including improving how students are tested and how performance is measured.

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