The state is soliciting bids for a new state exam that would replace the Common Core State Standards-aligned exam that Wisconsin students took for the first time this spring.
The formal search for a new test is in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-17 spending plan that would defund the Smarter Balanced exam, known in Wisconsin as the Badger Exam. The state Department of Public Instruction hopes to have a new test in place for the 2015-16 school year if the governor’s proposal becomes law, DPI senior policy adviser Jeff Pertl told lawmakers Wednesday.
It would mean Wisconsin elementary and middle school students would take a different state exam for the third time in three years.
Also Wednesday, the Assembly Education Committee approved a bill that would prohibit the use of this year’s test scores in measuring teachers and schools, and prohibit the creation of a school report card for the 2014-15 school year. The legislation had previously been approved by the Senate.
The Smarter Balanced test is costing millions more than the state initially anticipated and it has experienced technological glitches that have delayed administration of it, forced the state to scale back the kind of questions asked and led to elimination of the test’s key feature — that it adapts to a student’s abilities.
The test, built by test vendor Educational Testing Service, was given for the first time this spring in grades 3 through 8 for reading and English language arts. Tests built by ACT, also aligned to the Common Core, are given to high school students.
DPI officials said in January, before Walker’s budget was released, that they were exploring the availability of other tests to replace the Smarter Balanced exam in response to lawmakers’ concerns and the possibility the test would be defunded. The talk followed a growing skepticism of the Common Core standards among mostly conservative lawmakers.
Walker and other Republicans have called for replacing the Common Core standards, but a bill that would do so failed to get traction last legislative session.
The DPI is seeking bids for a test aligned to Wisconsin’s state standards, but does not specifically name Common Core, according to DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy.
Pertl told Senate Education Reform Committee members that schools are looking for stability going forward.
Test vendors invited
Committee chairman Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, said he invited test vendors to testify at the hearing to help understand whether Wisconsin could reduce the number of tests students are given by combining periodic assessments that measure student progress throughout the year with once-a-year tests that fulfill federal requirements.
“We’re serving two masters,” he said. “My whole thing is can I do both with one?”
Representatives from test vendors said at the hearing that it’s not ideal to use one test for different purposes.
Steve Baas, vice president of governmental affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, urged lawmakers to choose a new test and stick with it. He said the credibility of the state’s school accountability measures going forward counts on consistency.
When tests change often, or not all schools are using the same test, “it’s really easy for schools who are underperforming to say it’s the test’s problem, it’s not my problem,” he said.
Baas also pointed to lawmakers’ debate over the Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced test, which resulted in discussions that included misconceptions about the standards and that “the ultimate outcome was that people lost a little bit of faith in the validity and the credibility in that piece of our assessment package.”
Baas also said the process for choosing a new test should be more public, to avoid “people being susceptible to conspiracy theories because they thought this was sprung on them.”