History of the WKCE - 1975 through Present

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has a long history of administering standardized assessments for the purpose of measuring student achievement.

From 1975-87, the Wisconsin Pupil Assessment Program was administered in order to measure pupil achievement in specific skill areas using examinations with objective-and-norm-referenced interpretations. These tests were administered in March to samples of pupils from randomly-selected schools based on geographic location, district size, and grade enrollment. Pupil Assessment tests were developed by Wisconsin teachers for use in grades 4, 5, 8, 11, and 12 in Reading, Mathematics (Arithmetic, Geometry and Number Sentences), Writing, Science, and Social Studies (Economic Understanding, U.S. Government, and Geography). During this same time, the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS), a commercial shelf-test published by CTB/McGraw-Hill, was also administered to a statewide, representative sample at grades 4, 8, and 11. Districts were allowed to purchase additional copies of the Pupil Assessment tests if they wished so that all of their students, rather than just those in the selected statewide sample, could be tested.

From 1984-92, the Competency-Based Testing Program (CBT) was administered. These were objective-referenced, curriculum-based examinations at grades 3 through 12 to determine minimal standards for student attainment in Reading, Language Arts, and Mathematics. Participation by school districts was voluntary, and districts could develop their own examinations, with DPI approval, or use test questions developed for a DPI Item Bank. Participating districts were required to test all pupils once each in grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

From 1988-92, the Wisconsin Achievement Tests were established. These tests, known as the standard “s” tests (named after s.121.02 (1)(s) of state statutes), were similar to the CBTs in that districts were required to test pupils in Reading, Language Arts, and Mathematics using curriculum-based tests. Although the standard “s” tests differed from the CBT tests in the frequency of testing required, districts which participated fully in the CBT program automatically met the standard “s” requirement. Standard “s” results were used to determine if curriculum goals were being met as well as to monitor pupil achievement.

Beginning in the spring of 1989, DPI administered the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT), which was designed to identify students needing remedial reading instruction. The WRCT was administered annually in the spring through 2005, when it was replaced by the Grade 3 WKCE Reading Test as described below.

In 1991, Act 269 of the Wisconsin Legislature repealed both the CBT program and the standard "s" testing requirement. These programs were replaced by a requirement that school districts administer knowledge-and-concepts examinations in the eighth and tenth grades beginning in 1993-94, and in the fourth grade beginning in 1996-97. These assessments were designed to measure pupil knowledge and skills in reading, language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing. These earliest versions of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCEs) were commercial shelf tests that included ACT’s EXPLORE and PLAN assessments as well as the SAT-8 series developed by The Psychological Corporation of San Antonio, Texas (now known as Harcourt Assessment).

In 1997-98, the WKCE utilized the TerraNova exam series developed by CTB/McGraw-Hill of Monterey, California, following a request for proposals and a review of qualified bids. WKCE results were reported in terms of four proficiency categories: minimal performance, basic, proficient, and advanced that were based on cut scores on the established TerraNova scale that were set by using a standard-setting process involving over 200 Wisconsin educators, business leaders, and citizens who represented the state and who were knowledgeable about the content areas and grade levels being assessed.

The year 1998 was also marked by the development and approval of formal academic content standards in Wisconsin, which came to be known as the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards (WMAS). These content standards established expectations for what students should know by the ends of grades 4, 8, and 12 in the core academic subjects of English, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies; content standards for other subject areas were approved in subsequent years. The adoption of content standards brought a series of significant changes to Wisconsin’s assessment program, beginning with the addition of Wisconsin-customized items to the TerraNova-based WKCE assessments in Reading, Mathematics, and Science at grades 4, 8, and 10 following an alignment study between the TerraNova tests and the WMAS. Additional Wisconsin-customized items were added in grades 4 and 8 in 2001 following a second alignment study between the WMAS and the augmented WKCE.

The Grade 10 WKCE did not require augmentation with Wisconsin-customized items following the 2001 alignment study because it began utilizing items from the High School Graduation Test (HSGT) item pool. The HSGT was developed, and its items were field-tested, but it was never administered as an operational test form following a repeal of the program by the Wisconsin legislature. Since 2001, the Grade 10 WKCE has utilized completely Wisconsin-customized items in all five tested subjects (reading, mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies) using selected items from the HSGT item pool.

Achievement standards for the WKCE, which include cut scores for all four categories of proficiency, and performance descriptors specifying what type of knowledge and skills characterized each proficiency category, were reset for all subjects and grade levels in February of 2003, which was the first academic year following the adoption of the federal reauthorization of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). This standard-setting process involved nearly 250 Wisconsin educators, business leaders, and citizens. The 2005-06 academic year brought numerous significant changes to the state-assessment program. This was the first year of annual testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school (grade 10, per Wisconsin law) in Reading and Mathematics as required by NCLB. In preparation for annual testing in grades 3-8 and 10, Wisconsin developed Assessment Frameworks in Reading and Mathematics to extend the expectations for student knowledge specified in the WMAS (at the ends of grades 4, 8, and 12) to the WKCE tests that were administered at the beginnings of grades 3-8 and 10. These frameworks were released in 2005. The state also developed completely-customized item banks for reading and mathematics which were used for the first time in 2005-06. Science remained a mostly-TerraNova-based test at grades 4 and 8, with a few Wisconsin-customized items added to ensure full coverage of the WMAS, while the Language-Arts and Social-Studies tests at grades 4 and 8 remained TerraNova-based.

As a result of the move to completely Wisconsin-customized items in reading and mathematics, a customized Wisconsin scale replaced the TerraNova scale for all subjects beginning in 2005-06, with cut scores for the new scale equated from the TerraNova scale using a procedure known as equipercentile equating. With the transition to new tests and a new scale, which involved few, if any TerraNova items administered to students nationwide in Reading, Mathematics, and Science, WKCE results became reported primarily on a criterion-referenced basis, (student performance reported in relation to grade-level expectations) rather than on a norm-referenced basis, (student results reported largely in relation to other students’ performances through the use of percentiles). The administration schedule for the WKCE has evolved over the years, from fall testing windows from 1992-97 to February administrations during 1999-02 and back to fall (November) administrations from 2002 to the present.

Each aspect of Wisconsin’s statewide testing system includes significant involvement of Wisconsin educators and stakeholders. Wisconsin educators play an integral role in the development of the academic content standards, achievement standards, and assessments. Educators with diverse geographic, demographic, racial, ethic and cultural backgrounds across the state participate in test-development activities. Special-education and English-language learner representation is also ensured at all stages of the Wisconsin Student Assessment System.

In the 2012-13 school year DPI established new performance standards (cut scores) for the WKCE reading and mathematics content areas to more closely align with national and international expectations of requirements to be college and career ready. The higher cut scores are comparable to NAEP cut scores. The performance level descriptors that accompany the college and career ready cut scores have been revised to reflect the higher expectations required with these higher performance benchmarks. The WKCE reading and math cut scores from 2005 through 2010 are available at http://oeahist.dpi.wi.gov/ohist_2005cutscores. These new WKCE cut scores and performance level descriptors will serve as a bridge to the more rigorous Smarter Balanced assessments, which will be introduced in the 2014-15 school year. Smarter Balanced is developing assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics—academic standards that are designed to help prepare all students to graduate high school college and career ready.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau publishes a bi-annual Informational Paper with an edition-specific number on pupil assessment in Wisconsin that may be helpful.

Charted History of the WKCE - A visual history of the WKCE.

Questions and Answers Regarding the Move to the 2005-06 WKCE Tests, Scales, and Cut Scores

For questions about this information, contact osamail@dpi.wi.gov