Wisconsin plan seeks to cut achievement gap in half
By SCOTT BAUER
Apr. 28, 2017
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin plans to cut its worst-in-the-nation student achievement gap in half within six years — a goal that would require a dramatic upsurge in test scores by non-white students.
The state Department of Public Instruction also wants to cut the high school graduation gap in half over six years. Both goals are in the first draft of an accountability plan released Friday that is required under federal law and will dictate education policy in Wisconsin's K-12 schools for years to come.
The plan also calls for struggling schools to work more closely with families and local communities to turn them around. That's a more collaborative and locally focused approach than was permitted under the previous federal law, No Child Left Behind, that centered on punishing schools deemed to be failing.
Education leaders who worked on the state plan call the goals — which would require academic performance of black students to improve about four times as quickly as it is now — ambitious but doable.
"I'm for ambitious," state Superintendent Tony Evers said. "Yes, I think we can get there. It will take extensive efforts by everybody, including our communities, to get there."
The plan was created over several months based on feedback from a wide array of groups, including those representing K-12 school districts, parents, teachers, choice schools, non-white students, the disabled, gay, lesbian and transgender children, the Legislature, Gov. Scott Walker and the University of Wisconsin and technical colleges.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Luther Olsen, who was on the advisory panel, called the achievement gap goal ambitious but reasonable.
"We have a problem and let's tackle it and try to deal with it," Olsen said.
The public can comment on the 105-page plan over the next two months. Walker and members of the Legislature will get a chance to review it for a month before the state education department submits it to President Donald Trump's administration for approval.
All 50 states must submit accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act in order to continue receiving education funding from the federal government. Wisconsin gets more than $500 million annually from the federal government.
States were given more flexibility and control under the new law to develop their plans, increasing concerns that they may not address the needs of high-risk student populations. Much of the work on Wisconsin's plan and an advisory council created to help draft it focused on ensuring that high-risk student populations — like African-Americans, English-language learners, the disabled and gay students — are treated equitably.
To meet the achievement gap goals, all students will have to improve on state tests measuring English and math knowledge by 1 percent a year. It's even higher for non-white populations. Black students, for example, will have to increase proficiency by 4 percent a year in English and 4.2 percent a year in math.
That's a pretty tall order considering that black student proficiency has increased only about 1 percent a year in recent years.
Wisconsin's plan uses a broad array of factors to determine school performance, including academic achievement in reading and math tests, graduation rates, progress in attaining English language proficiency and chronic absenteeism.
Federal law requires the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools receiving federal funding be identified in the 2018 school year for more intense intervention by the state to help them improve.
The plan does not replace more robust state school report cards, which detail how well Wisconsin schools are meeting state standards. Instead, the state will continue issuing report cards tied to Wisconsin standards and then provide a separate report to the federal government about how it's meeting requirements under the federal law.
Release of the draft comes amid threats of a lawsuit from conservative law firm and the state chamber of commerce over the process used to write the plan.
Ultimate approval of the state plan, which is due Sept. 18, is up to President Donald Trump's secretary of the Department of Education Betsy DeVos.
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