elementary school standardized test file photo

In this 2011 file photo, Ryanna Robinson takes a practice test in Racine in preparation for the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) standardized tests.

Madison students are slated to get a double dose of standardized tests in the coming years as the state redesigns its annual series of exams while school districts seek better ways to measure learning.

For years, district students in grades three through eight and grade 10 have taken the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a series of state-mandated tests that measure school accountability.

Last month, in addition to the state tests, eighth- and ninth-graders took one of three different tests the district plans to introduce in grades three through 10. Compared with the WKCE, the tests are supposed to more accurately assess whether students are learning at, above or below grade level. Teachers also will get the results more quickly.

“Right now we have a vacuum of appropriate assessment tools,” said Tim Peterson, Madison’s assistant director of curriculum and assessment. “The standards have changed, but the measurement tool that we’re required by law to use — the WKCE — is not connected.”

Superintendent Dan Nerad has proposed spending $181,000 next year on the three tests in his 2011-12 budget, which the School Board has yet to approve.

The state WKCE is scheduled for replacement in 2014 with a new set of tests designed to measure student achievement. It’s expected to resemble some of the new tests Madison and other districts have started to administer, said Jennifer Thayer, assistant state superintendent for student and school success.

In addition to EXPLORE in eighth and ninth grades, the new Madison tests starting next school year include the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) for third- through seventh-graders and PLAN for 10th-graders.

The new testing regimen raised questions for Kathy Cascadden, a Sherman Middle School parent whose eighth-grader took the district’s new EXPLORE test in mid-April.

Among her questions: What’s the benefit? What’s the difference between this test and the WKCE, which is administered every fall in grades three to eight and 10? What happens if a student does well? What happens if a student doesn’t do well?

“They didn’t go into exactly what they are looking for,” Cascadden said of a note sent to parents by the school.

It’s unclear if the additional tests will remain a part of the Madison schools once the WKCE replacement tests are approved by the state.

MAP test twice a year

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Though details haven’t been finalized, the district likely will administer the MAP test twice a year to track a student’s progress, Peterson said.

The computer-based test adjusts questions based on the student’s answers until it zeroes in on their exact ability level. Teachers can use scores to accelerate instruction for students who have fallen behind grade level and allow advanced students to skip a grade.

“It really does help you differentiate the instruction — it helps you identify what would be too easy and what would be too hard,” said Bill Breisch, director of instruction for the Monona Grove School District, which has used MAP since 2002.

New tests for grades eight through 10

The EXPLORE test for eighth- and ninth-graders takes about three hours, and schools get the results in a month. In addition to measuring student achievement in various subjects, it offers feedback on which subjects students should focus on to attain their career goals.

“It’s almost like a map for when they enter their freshman year,” Sherman Principal Michael Hernandez said.

District 10th-graders are scheduled to take the PLAN test next year. It is similar to EXPLORE but with harder questions. Memorial High School sophomores took the test this year. Principal Bruce Dahmen said parents and teachers generally have been supportive, with only a few questions about the tests taking away time from the classroom.

Unlike the WKCE, which “we have to continue to give,” Dahmen said, school officials want to administer the PLAN and EXPLORE tests.

Two districts in the state, Monona Grove and Milwaukee, also administer the ACT in 11th grade. Madison does not plan to do so, because it is more expensive, Peterson said.

Students in 299 districts sit for one or more of the tests Madison is scheduling, or some variation of them. Students across the state take the weeklong WKCE in the fall, which is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The new tests do not meet the federal requirements, though the “MAP-like” next-generation state test will meet the federal standard, Thayer said.

The state spends about $7.5 million on the WKCE, Thayer said. If all districts administered additional tests in grades three to 11, including the ACT, it would cost about $8.9 million.

State Superintendent Tony Evers recommended the state spend $3.3 million on the additional tests to bridge the system until 2014, but the recommendation wasn’t included in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

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Most Madison students can expect to take more standardized tests in the coming years. In 2014, a new state test could replace both assessments.


WKCE: The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination is a series of tests required by the state under the federal No Child Left Behind law to measure school district and school accountability. It is being replaced in 2014 by a test that is still being developed.

WKCE+: Students in all grades that take the WKCE take reading and math tests. Students in 4th, 8th and 10th grade also take science, social studies and language arts tests.

MAP: The Measures of Academic Progress is an adaptive computer test that increases the difficulty of questions depending on how students answer. Students could take it up to four times a year, but the district is considering offering it twice in the fall and spring.

EXPLORE: The first in a series of paper-and-pencil, multiple choice tests offered by the ACT Co. It includes four 30-minute tests in English, reading, math and science. It also asks questions that help students focus their career goals.

PLAN: Considered a "pre-ACT," it has a similar format to EXPLORE with harder questions. It also has a career development component. About 70 percent of Wisconsin students take the ACT, a college readiness test.