Governor Unveils School, Teacher Grading Systems as Part of Education Reforms

MacIver News Service | January 19, 2012

[Madison, Wisc…] Governor Walker took the first steps in unveiling the state’s latest education reforms Thursday afternoon, discussing the final recommendations of three major K-12 efforts at a gathering of educational professionals.

“Improving our schools, measuring student achieving growth, and increasing accountability and transparency in education will help our children succeed,” said Governor Walker, who announced the reforms at the 2012 State Education Convention in Milwaukee. “While members of the working groups deserve credit for their recommendations, our work is not yet done. I encourage parents, teachers, school board members, and all community leaders to help implement these reforms that are key to our state’s long‐term prosperity.”

The Governor discussed the bi-partisan efforts behind the Read to Lead, Educator Effectiveness, and School Accountability programs that are aimed at improving public education and providing parents and students with a stronger, more transparent grading system for Wisconsin’s schools.

The three programs are all items that have been in the works for nearly a year. Task forces and design teams have labored to create a comprehensive system of accountability for schools, teachers, and students that have included input from almost every player in the educational process. Today’s announcement was the first public unveiling of the final recommendations of the school accountability and educator effectiveness programs. The Read to Lead guidelines were announced by Walker and Superintendent Tony Evers January 4.

The Educator Effectiveness program will give schools, administrators, and parents a better idea of how teachers are performing in the classroom. These evaluations will incorporate equal parts student outcomes and observed practices to create a balanced view at what educators bring to their classrooms.

Of the three reforms, the Educator Effectiveness plan was one of the most divisive. The Wisconsin Educators Association Council (WEAC), the state’s largest teachers’ union, refused to participate after a contentious battle over Act 10. Instead, the union organized their own focus group and released their recommendations for a new teacher evaluation system late in 2011. Another group of educators, the Southwestern Wisconsin Teacher Evaluation Consortium, devised a localized system to gauge classroom effectiveness. This group of over 60 school districts banded together to create a customized system for implementation in their schools. They have also worked with DPI to develop best practices that could be absorbed into the statewide program.

“We spent a significant amount of time last year engaged in design team processes to make important decisions about how to improve students’ reading scores, ensure every classroom has an effective teacher, and gauge school success by looking at both growth and attainment,” added Senate Education Chairman Luther Olsen. “This education package puts into law essential elements to help these initiatives succeed.”

The Educator Effectiveness program is based on widely accepted 2011 Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) Model Core Teaching Standards. They’ll give parents and administrators the clearest picture of the value a teacher adds to their classroom that Wisconsin has ever had. However, questions remain over how this data will be handled, what will constitute a “bad” teacher, and how long teachers have to receive poor grades for parents to be notified that a low-performing educator is teaching their children.

The second new piece unveiled today was the School Accountability system, which will grade and categorize schools based on factors like student growth and college or career readiness. This program will replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in the measurement of the state’s public schools, and will create a more accurate and realistic metric by which to rate Wisconsin’s institutions. Upcoming legislation for this act will have to be strongly influenced by the Department of Public Instruction’s upcoming waiver for release from NCLB standards.

The centerpiece of the School Accountability program will be a report card that touts a school’s grades and will be displayed prominently on the school’s website. How these schools are graded, however, is still unknown. Both the metric for these grades and the grading system (for example an A-F system compared to Proficient, Advanced, and other labels) has yet to have a formal release. While this represents a new step forward in transparency, the lack of easily understandable grades could create some confusion amongst parents and sap the program of its impact.

The two programs, along with the previously announced Read to Lead plans, are expected to have a significant effect on Wisconsin’s public education.However, whether or not these plans will go far enough to create true reform will depend heavily on their implementation.This implementation will be a hot topic in Madison over the next several months as lawmakers draft the legislation to make these programs a reality in the state’s public schools.

Although Superintendent Evers joined Gov. Walker at the Read to Lead announcement earlier this year, he offered this statement Thursday afternoon.

“[D]espite my leadership in these arenas and constitutional authority, I have not been involved in the drafting of the education proposals that have been announced,” said Evers. “Clearly, it is essential to see the details of this proposed legislation and ensure they match the intent and spirit of all the work that so many groups and individuals put into improving schools and academic achievement for all students in Wisconsin.”