GREEN BAY - Students in Wisconsin will face new standardized tests as they head back to school this year.
The tests match up with the Common Core State Standards. Those standards were designed nationally to improve student test scores.
The Common Core State Standards spell out by grade level what students should know. This year, new tests will measure that knowledge.
“We are trusting that the curriculum that we developed will prepare kids to be successful,” said Stephen Miller, Director of Assessments for the Green Bay Area Public School District.
Let's take a look at how standardized testing will change. Students *used* to be tested on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, or WKCE. It measured achievement in math, English, science and social studies. The WKCE only tested students in grades four, eight and ten.
But the new Common Core State Standards measure progress in every grade. Kindergarten through second graders will take the PALS test. It's a literacy screening test. Third through eighth graders will take the SMARTER balanced assessment. It tests English and Math. Fourth, eighth and tenth graders will still take the WKCE in social studies and science. Ninth and tenth graders will take the Aspire test. It's an ACT practice test. And all 11th graders will take the actual ACT college assessment free of charge.
Some parents say taking the ACT on the state's dime will help families.
“It's a good test, and everyone should take that. It's a good measure to see where you're at. I'm all for that,” said Amy Archibald of Suamico.
Others say the ACT puts some students at a disadvantage.
“Not everybody goes on to college. Some kids can do it and some kids can't,” said Sandy Fischer of Clintonville.
However, 11th graders in many school districts-- including Green Bay--- will also take the Work Keys test.
“The Work Keys is a career readiness assessment that will, I believe, not only give students an idea of where they stand and where they might go in the future after high school but could also be used as admission to technical colleges,” said Wisconsin State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers.
But critics of the Common Core say with all these new assessments, schools are just teaching to the test.
“He who controls the tests ultimately controls what can and cannot be taught in the classrooms,” said Duke Pesta.
Pesta teaches English at UW-Oshkosh. He also runs Freedom Project Education, an online home school program. Pesta says the Common Core takes away local teacher input.
“Suddenly, you don't have local control. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter what the state does. All that matters is getting your kids ready for that test,” said Pesta.
Schools say that's not true.
“We don't teach to the specific questions on the test, but we should be covering similar things in our curriculum and instructional process,” said Miller.
Schools say the way students take tests will change.
This year children will be sharpening fewer number 2 pencils and filling in fewer bubbles on sheets. Instead, they'll be completing their assessments online.
School administrators say they will see test results faster with an online system.
“In the past we'd typically give the WKCE in the fall. We would get the results for kids sometime around March. With smarter balanced, we should have the results in two to three weeks and we can do something to intervene for those kids if they are struggling,” said Miller.
Both those who support and oppose the Common Core say its true effect won't be known until the test scores come in.
- SMARTER balanced assessment practice tests, grades 3-8: http://sampleitems.smarterbalanced.org/itempreview/sbac/index.htm
- Aspire practice tests for 9 and 10 graders: http://www.discoveractaspire.org/assessments.html
- ACT practice tests for 11 graders: http://www.actstudent.org/sampletest/