The WKCE testing and related assessments are scheduled for next week in the Madison Metropolitan School District schools (full schedule of MMSD assessments, here), but your child doesn’t have to be part of it. You can opt out. Families with students in grades 4,8, & 10 have a state statutory right to opt out of the WKCE; I have been told that it is district practice to allow families to opt out of any and all other, discretionary, tests. We opted out this year. In order to opt out, you must contact your school’s Principal (and do it ASAP, (contact info here).
The WKCE does your child no good. Just about everyone agrees that even in comparison to other standardized tests, it is not a good assessment. Because results are received so late in the year, it isn’t of much use to target student weaknesses or guide instruction. There are no benefits for students.
There are also no benefits for schools and the district, and some potential for harm. The WKCE is central to the new Wisconsin “Accountability” system (discussed here) and will be part of the new “Educator Effectiveness” system, being implemented. Both of these are built on the — likely false (see: “Snookered by Bill Gates and the U. S. Department of Education“) — promise of “SMARTER Balanced Assessments,” but because the Report Cards include a “growth measure” and the educator evaluations include a Value Added component, the WKCE will be part of the calculations for at least two more years (this will be accomplished by pretending that the WKCE is essentially the same as the new test, which in fact it likely is, in that it will no doubt measure scocio-economic status better than it measures anything else).
A large-scale, summative assessment such as the WKCE is not designed to provide diagnostic information about individual students. Those assessments are best done at the local level, where immediate results can be obtained. Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum (emphasis added).
But in the mania to compare and rate and evaluate that is the new Status Quo, this is almost exactly how the WKCE is being used. Not the WKCE alone, but in the Report Cards the WKCE dominates and in the Educator Evaluation the WKCE test scores may be decisive (test scores only account for a small part of the evaluations, but if the other portions show little variance, the test score portion will be determinative). No good can come from this and the mis-impressions created — about districts, schools, educators and students — are harmful, if only because they create confusion and make it more difficult to have productive policy deliberations.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that opting out can have consequences for schools and districts. The new Wisconsin system takes away points based on low participation, so there will be an impact there. If your child is likely to score in the higher ranges, their absence will lower the scores used to produce the “accountability” measures. If the school consequently falls into one of the two lower tiers, extended day programs and school improvement plans are required. If it is in the lowest tier, then the plans must include out-sourcing to an approved “turnaround” vendor. As I noted before, this is privatization of public services and turnaround specialists do not have records of success that inspire confidence. A school or district that fails to “turnaround” is subject to further intervention by the State Superintendent. A school or that does not cooperate with these directives “will close.”
Although school administrators have criticized the system, I doubt districts will choose the noncooperation option. Too bad, that would be a fight that would shine a bright light on the this conception of “accountability.”
Opting out is a smaller version of noncooperation that is available to every family. You don’t have to be part of the madness.
It can also become something larger. Without all of childrens’ test scores, the machine grinds to a halt. There is a national Opt Out movement. Here are some places to find out more (including opt out rights and procedures in other states and districts):
In closing, I want to point to an alternative to the over-use and abuse of standardized testing. Thee are many; this one — New York Performance Standards Consortium’s performance-based assessments — was featured in a Washington Post post, “An alternative to standardized testing for student assessment,” by Monty Niel today. Check it out. We can do better.
Thomas J. Mertz