Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Schools prepare students for new test

by Jade Bolack

December 06, 2012

WALWORTH — Students in the five Big Foot Area schools face more changes in the coming years, including standardized tests comparing them to students across the nation.

“There is no reason to not improve,” Sara Bowman, Big Foot Area Schools curriculum director, said. “The nation has said our standards were too low, but we still are not doing badly. The common core standards will increase rigor at each grade level.”

School boards from the association’s five schools met Nov. 29 to discuss the impact of the report cards on the association.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released report cards for each school district in October as part of a waiver from the No Child Left Behind program. To qualify for the waiver, all state schools are graded on their ability to close gaps between minority group students and their peers, among other goals based on past school performance.

Bowman said funding may also be based on school performance in the future.

“There are politics buried in there,” she said.

Under performing schools may see reduced funding, Bowman said.

Joe McHugh, Fontana school board vice president, said the change in “cut scores” - score groupings such as proficient and advanced - means students are held to a higher standard.

The cut scores on a standardized test separates students into categories. Previous state standards had lower standards, meaning students could receive a lower score and still fall into the “meeting expectations” category. Now, the different category scores are based on national standards.

For example, with the old standards, a student needed 466 points in reading to be in the advanced category. Now, students must earn 507 points for the category.

“Were the old standards (for the state tests) too low?” he asked. “If the cut scores using the national tests are more accurate that’s what we should be using.”

Bowman said new standardized tests will be used in Wisconsin starting in 2015.

“We’re moving to the Smarter Balanced tests along with several other states,” she said. “We’ll be able to compare our schools to the nation.”

The tests won’t make the students smarter, and Bowman said students need to think differently.

“I like to think of it as having our kids think like engineers,” she said. “They don’t just solve the problem and fill in a circle. They need to have critical thinking skills.”

Bowman said the new standardized tests will be short answer and longer reading sessions instead of multiple choice.

Potential plans

“We need to change the way we teach children,” Sara Norton, Fontana district administrator, said. “The universal curriculum has to be differentiated. Teach the students where they are at. It’s a completely different approach to our craft.”

Lisa Laing, Fontana school board clerk, said the Big Foot school association needs to work together to make changes.

“Has this group ever looked at structural changes?” she said. “There have been multiple studies about what time teenagers learn the best. They turn almost nocturnal. Elementary students are wide awake in the mornings and ready to go. If we had flexible scheduling like that, it could help our kids.”

Laing also suggested shorter vacations spread throughout the school year and a shorter summer break.

“There are things that we can do to help our students,” she said. “It’s not just about spending more money.”

Kelly Freeman, Walworth school board president, said the separate districts should discuss those ideas.

“It’s something we should talk about at local levels, first,” she said. “Then come back with more information to the next association meeting.”