Bill would make opting out of school tests easier

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Assembly Republicans moved forward Thursday with a proposal that would ensure that scores on statewide tests given to public school children this spring aren't used against teachers or put on report cards measuring school performance.

And the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee circulated another bill making it easier for children to avoid taking the exams altogether in future years.

The proposals are in reaction to the flawed roll out of the Badger Exam this year, a test that was beset with a variety of problems that led to widespread criticism from parents, school districts, state policymakers and Gov. Scott Walker.

In reaction, the Legislature is moving forward with a bill that would result in no school report cards being issued in the fall with test results. The scores would also not be used to measure the effectiveness of teachers. The results would still be publicly available through the Department of Public Instruction and reported to the federal government to meet testing requirements.

The Senate has already passed the bill. The Assembly Education Committee voted unanimously to advance it Thursday so the full Assembly could vote on it next week.

A separate bill, unveiled Thursday, would make it easier for parents to choose not to have their children take statewide tests. The measure, by Assembly Education Committee chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, would require schools to send a letter to parents once a year listing all the standardized tests that are to be given and explain the process for opting out.

Thiesfeldt, of Fond du Lac, said his goal was to make clear that students in all grades can choose not to take any of the tests, citing confusion with current law that only specifies students in those grades that had been given the previous statewide test can opt out.

The bill would further require districts to provide a summary of the tests that will be given, including the purpose of the exam, when it will be given and how the results will be used.

The measure would also remove the state requirement that at least 95 percent of students take the required test. Schools that don't meet that rate are penalized on the state report card, which can lower their performance ranking.

Last year, only 18 schools out of 2,113 did not have at least 95 percent participation in the statewide test, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

The 95 percent participation rate is also required under federal law.

The new Badger Exam was given this spring to all public school students in grades 3-8, as well as students attending private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers. Schools have until May 22 to complete the tests, which cover English and math.

The exam has drawn widespread criticism from parents and schools about whether the results would be used because of implementation problems that led to delays, a writing portion of the language arts section being deleted and a key interactive feature being dropped because it didn't work right.

Because the test is tied to the more rigorous Common Core academic standards, scores were expected to be lower than they had been in previous years. That, along with implementation problems, also raised concerns about how the results would be viewed and used.

Walker proposed dropping the test after this year and moving to a new one. Bids are being sought for a new test to be implemented next school year assuming Walker's proposal passes, DPI policy adviser Jeff Pertl told state senators at a briefing Thursday.


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