Elmbrook Schools' superintendent on Wednesday praised a state plan to give all high school students ACT assessments, saying the new testing system will better evaluate student learning and prepare for post-graduation.
“The Elmbrook School District is optimistic that this move will be a better measure of college and career readiness than the current WKCE provides,” Elmbrook Superintendent Mark Hansen said.
State Superintendent Tony Evers on Wednesday unveiled a proposal to replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) with a suite of ACT assessments starting in the 2014-'15 school year.
“This is really a historic day in Wisconsin,” Evers said. “We’re moving to a different place in the state, and we need to make sure every student is adequately and significantly prepared for their future careers.”
High school students would take four tests, which would be paid for and provided by the state. Evers estimated the cost at roughly $7 million, which he included in his 2013-15 budget proposal.
Some of the cost would be offset by not administering the WKCE.
“There’s a cost to this. Quality does cost,” Evers said. “I think this is a huge step forward for Wisconsin to consistently address career and college preparation. This will be a priority moving forward.”
Savings to Elmbrook parents
For Elmbrook, it would be a cost-savings, as the state would now fund ACT suites most Elmbrook students already has been taking — at parents' expense.
Parents would no longer be responsible for those fees, said Melanie Stewart, Elmbrook's director of data, assessment and continuous improvement.
"This is wonderful news," Stewart said. "Being able to offer this at no charge and for all of our students would just be a tremendous benefit to our students and their families, both in high school planning and in college planning."
The assessments also would provide better date on student achievement and areas for improvement.
Under Ever's proposal, ninth-grade students would take an ACT EXPLORE test in spring of the 2014-15 school year. The ACT PLAN test would be administered in 10th grade, and the actual ACT and WorkKeys assessments would be administered in 11th grade.
The WorkKeys test assesses students’ job skills and helps them prepare for the workforce whether they gain employment directly from school, learn a trade, or enter post-secondary education. The ACT EXPLORE and ACT PLAN tests help students identify areas for improvement, and guide their future course selection.
ACTs motivate students more than WKCEs
Evers said the current WKCE assessment doesn’t provide much incentive for students to do well. The ACT assessment; however, would count for the future educational goals of students and is a more accurate assessment of student learning.
“It will serve as a great early warning system for students, which will help us make sure they are planning in an effective way,” Evers said.
Approximately 61 percent of all the state’s high school students already take the ACT examination. Evers’ plan would ensure all students take it as part of their high school experience. In rural parts of the state many students lack access to ACT testing centers, but every school would become a certified testing center under his plan.
In Elmbrook, about 85 percent of its high school students already take the ACT, one of the highest percentages in the state.
Like some other area districts such as Pewaukee, last year. But Elmbrook's scores were in the state's top 10: 25.8 at Brookfield East and 25.1 at Brookfield Central, for a composite district score of 25.4.
Will full participation lower district scores?
Hansen said he was not concerned about those scores lowering with 100 percent student participation, but acknowledged that has been a concern raised in other states that have moved from voluntary to mandatory ACT assessments.
"We want a measurement system that provides the most timely and accurate information on each student's performance," he said, adding the ACT suite will do a better job of that than the WKCE did.
"Both of our high schools have a systematic approach to the ACT suite already in place," including the EXPLORE and PLAN tools, he added. "The difference would be primarily that this would now be funded by the DPI budget. In addition to that, it would capture ACT performance for 100 percent of our students as they complete their junior year.
"This provides us a meaningful measure for not just students but their families and the school staff who support each student's journey," he said.
Several states have already mandated the ACT assessment for high school students. Milwaukee Public Schools have also required the ACT assessment.
Evers said, “This budget proposal will meet the demand for accountability that matters. The ACT suite will provide multiple measures of student achievement that give a picture of individual and school growth for high school accountability.”