With a tougher benchmark imposed by the Department of Public Instruction, less students across the state achieved proficient and advanced on the recently released Wisconsin Student Assessment System tests.
The Waukesha School District followed this trend.
But Ryan Krohn, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said his district isn't complaining about the new standards.
Rather, it will set out to achieve maximum success in the future on the tests (combined Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities).
"We like the high standards and want to set the bar higher," Krohn said. "We want the challenge."
In fact, Krohn said the actual test scores were around the same as last year, but the new standards affected where the students were placed: minimal performance, basic, proficient and advanced.
"It's like if you were a high jumper and were able to jump six feet, but now the projected line is at seven feet," Krohn said. "We're still performing at the six-feet level, which is a high level, but we're just being asked to jump higher to reach the next standard."
The district scored slightly above the state average in 10 of the 14 math and reading categories for its seven grade levels.
Last year, the district was slightly above the state average in those categories in nine of the 14 grade levels.
Students across the state in grades 3 through 8 and 10 take the standardized test each fall. On average, the district had 37.8 percent of its students score proficient/advanced in reading and 49.0 in math. The state, meanwhile, had an average proficient/advanced percentage of 36.1 in reading and 48.0 in math.
Math better than reading
A trend the district followed the state on is low reading scores - at least when comparing them to the math scores. According to test results, 24 percent of all test-takers in the state were rated minimal in reading, compared to five percent a year ago. Reading for grade 3 in the district was in the 30 percent minimal range but each ensuing grade level did see the minimal reading percentage decrease.
Specifically, the average reading and math scores across the state and in Waukesha were separated by double-digit percentages in five of the seven grade levels.
In the state, grades 4 and 5 had gaps of 17 percent and grade 6 had an 18-percent gap. In Waukesha, there was less of a gap, but reading and math for grades 3 through 6 were all separated by at least 10 percentage points.
This separation was not lost on Krohn as those levels were close to about 50 percent proficient/advanced in math, while proficient/advanced reading scores for those grade levels were only around the low- to mid-30s.
"We're going to continue to focus on reading to close the gap in achievement," Krohn said. "ACT results and WCKE tests didn't make the gain that math has in the last three years so we are going to focus on literacy in everything we do."
Reviewing high schools
Waukesha West scored higher than the two other high schools as 46.9 percent of the 10th graders were proficient/advanced in reading but only 4.4 percent were advanced. Meanwhile, 57.1 percent of the students were proficient/advanced in math with 17.3 percent advanced.
Last year 81 percent were proficient/advanced in reading and 83.9 in math. But because of the new standards, doing a direct comparison isn't accurate, Krohn said.
North had 39.5 percent proficient/advanced in reading with only 3.2 in the advanced category. Math scores were higher with 52.6 percent proficient/advanced with 11.2 advanced.
South followed the trend with lower reading scores as only 32.9 percent were in the proficient/advanced category. Like the others, students scored better on the math test as 45.1 percent were proficient/advanced.
By adjusting the categorical requirements, Wisconsin aligns itself with National Assessment of Educational Progress criteria used by the majority of states across the country.
"Raising the bar doesn't change our pursuit at a higher level of learning," Krohn said. "So regardless of the score, we would have asked how we can fundamentally change learning."
Hoping iPads help
One specific way, Krohn highlighted, is the incorporation of iPads that the Waukesha School Board recently approved for four schools next year.
He said doing so is an innovative way of thinking, which he hopes could raise scores by 10 to 15 percent.
Krohn said schools are beginning to test out iPads and get teachers accustomed so they can be ready for the 2013-14 school year. He said besides the personalized instruction, posting daily lessons to YouTube is a feature a teacher at Blair Elementary is pursuing so students can access them at anytime.
"We're really excited about doing things like that," Krohn said. "We're looking at closing the larger gaps through innovative approaches."