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Cascade Matters is the blog of Cascade Educational Consultants. Cascade has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. We are committed to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens. Learn more about us.

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Grappling with Standardized Testing and No Child Left Behind

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Across the country, public schools engage in the yearly ritual of standardized testing. There isn’t a U.S. household with school-age children that hasn’t experienced a standardized test.

Most educational “experts” agree that testing is just one measure of how well students comprehend and apply knowledge. I think we can all agree that high standards are a worthy goal.

However, the current situation in my home state of Wisconsin is reflective of a larger issue.

Recently, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a perfectly-timed opinion piece by Alan J. Borsuk, titled
“Wisconsin's annual school test still gets lots of attention, but it seems less useful each year.”

I believe this article does a good job of illustrating the declining value of the Wisconsin’s WKCE standardized test. It also shows the importance and urgency of more rigorous, authentic assessments. Hopefully, they will be developed by my state before 2014.

Mr. Borusk's column captures my perspective well and highlights the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's highly public move earlier this year to seek a waiver for No Child Left Behind.

What has been under reported is that Wisconsin’s DPI quietly announced that they aren't going to make the November deadline to file the waiver to the U.S. Department of Education.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state that is seeking such a waiver. Eleven other states met the deadline and have applied for waivers from the federal government.

Wisconsin’s failure to meet the federal deadline puts my state’s schools — and the high performing school districts we benchmark to — in the zone of possibly not making adequate yearly progress: 100 percent of all students must be above standard in the next few years.

In my school district, we listened to teachers and the community and made a decision to begin to put these tests in the rearview mirror. Better, authentic, and rigorous assessments are the order of the day.

In Greendale, we are linking professional development with best practices in the classroom so that we can become more efficient and successful in our work with students. Good teaching and a positive school climate helps support our students in their performance on standardized tests. More importantly, it will push them towards a brighter future with more rigorous assessments ahead and engaged learning ready for higher education and the world beyond high school.

Image: William Hughes
About the author: Dr. William Hughes has worked in education for  31 years as a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools. He has served as Superintendent of the Greendale School District in Greendale, Wisconsin for the past 14 years. Greendale is a garden community and one of three greenbelt communities in the United States. It is a suburban district of about 2,600 students located in the Milwaukee metro area; an area known for high achieving schools.  Greendale is known for its high level of student achievement with over 90 percent of graduates attending higher education institutions, ongoing community engagement on multiple levels, along with collaborative relationships with bargaining groups while retaining a focus on children, service, citizenship and learning. He is a former board member of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, a member of the National School Climate Council, board member of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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