• Overall, Wisconsin’s plan is clear, well organized, and easy to understand.


  • While there are questions about whether the state’s goals are too ambitious, the state has good intentions and aspirations behind them.


  • Schools will be held accountable for a short list of high-quality indicators, and the state has provided a clear explanation of how those indicators will be measured and combined into an overall rating system.


  • The state has also done important work to engage stakeholders, including equity advocates, in the writing of its plan.


  • Wisconsin’s plan indicates the inclusion of evidence-based interventions that schools may adopt. The state considers educational equity regarding school interventions as a part of its plan and emphasizes technical assistance, additional supportive strategies, and investments.




  • Wisconsin’s plan largely continues processes and efforts it has been pursuing for the last several years. While that means the state can point to stakeholder buy-in for decisions it is already implementing, Wisconsin could have capitalized on opportunities provided by ESSA to move in new directions.


  • Wisconsin’s plan may have little impact on schools beyond the very lowest performers, as the state does not include a specific weighting for subgroups in its school rating process. Instead, it’s relying on a back-end check to identify schools with low-performing subgroups, but it has not provided data showing the implications of its decisions.


  • Finally, Wisconsin’s school improvement process may not be aggressive enough to dramatically change the trajectory of low-performing schools. The state’s school improvement activities appear broad, and the supports and consequences outlined in the plan are not backed by strong evidence of success.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Wisconsin scored in each category.



Wisconsin’s plan articulates aligned and ambitious long-term goals that intend to cut current achievement gaps in half in six years.


The state’s long-term goals for students are aligned to the state’s expectation that all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers, an expectation that was mentioned throughout Wisconsin’s plan.


Importantly, the state’s long-term goals take into account the performance levels of various subgroups.


For example, the required annual increase in proficiency rates is 1 percentage point for white students and 4.2 percentage points for black students. The state provided historical performance suggesting that the annual progress expected going forward for black students and students with disabilities is roughly as much progress as they made in the last six years combined. However, a 1-percentage-point annual increase in proficiency rates across all students statewide may not be rigorous enough to ensure all students are college and career ready, which is a stated goal in Wisconsin’s plan.


Wisconsin takes a similar approach to four-year graduation rates, including goals around a seven-year graduation rate that are similar in methodology, but more ambitious for each group.


The state’s goal for graduation rates include annual increases of 0.3 percentage points for white students (toward a six-year goal of 94.5 percent), but annual increases of 2.7 percentage points for black students (toward a six-year goal of 80.1 percent).


The state has a well-thought-out plan for measuring English language proficiency.


Students will have unique targets based on their age and entering level of English language proficiency, and the state has run historical data to decide what level of progress is sufficient for students, depending on their age and proficiency level. The state plan also includes important information about how annual growth targets are calculated, which will increase transparency of English learner performance in the state.




Wisconsin’s plan does not provide much information about the rigor of their standards and how the state determines whether its standards are aligned to college and career readiness.


Wisconsin’s plan includes a link to its state standards and to a council tasked with reviewing those standards, and provides some information about the standards review process, which is helpful context; however, more information on this review process would also be helpful.


The state should provide more information about the assessment system.


While the plan mentions the Wisconsin Student Assessment System, there is little information provided about it or how the state determines whether or not its assessments are aligned with its standards.


The state translates its assessments into Spanish, allows word-to-word dictionaries, or both.


Wisconsin’s plan defines a language other than English that is “present to a significant extent” as any language spoken by at least 20 percent of the state’s English learner population. This captures Spanish, but the second most common language, Hmong, comes close at 16 percent. It could increase equity in access to the assessment by permitting the use of bilingual dictionaries for other native spoken languages as it does for Spanish.


The state could strengthen its plan by providing the steps it will take to ensure that it does not exceed the 1 percent cap on participation in the alternate assessment for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.




Wisconsin’s plan includes a relatively short list of indicators to be included in the state’s accountability system.


For elementary schools, its system will include student achievement (English language arts and math), student growth, English language proficiency, and chronic absenteeism. The indicators are the same for high schools, except graduation rates replace growth.


For high schools, Wisconsin plans to weight graduation rates between 37.5 percent and 42.5 percent, depending on the English learner population at the school. This weight may be too high, especially since the accountability system does not include a specific measure related to college and career readiness for high school students. Moreover, the state plan averages the four- and seven-year graduation rates, which may not provide sufficient incentive for schools to focus on on-time graduation.


Wisconsin’s plan would be stronger if it included measures of college and career readiness (e.g., Advanced Placement participation and success, or a measure of postsecondary enrollment without the need for remediation).


Wisconsin will make a statistical adjustment to its indicators to “standardize” each of them and put them on comparative scales. This will allow Wisconsin to combine different indicators and acknowledge (positive or negative) outliers, but it may be confusing and hard to act upon. Wisconsin could strengthen its plan by describing how it will explain this system to parents and educators in the state.



Wisconsin will give equal weighting to both academic proficiency and growth, but the specific models it chose may not give sufficient incentive for schools to pay attention to students reaching the state’s grade-level standards.


For its achievement indicator, Wisconsin plans to use an index for English language arts and math. For students achieving at level 1, below basic, a school is awarded zero points. Students scoring basic earn 0.5 points, proficient 1 point, and advanced 1.5 points. While Wisconsin deserves credit for attempting to measure performance across a broad spectrum, it risks overemphasizing the highest levels of performance at the expense of masking other students. As an example, a hypothetical school with half of its students at advanced and half at basic would earn the same number of points as a school with all of its students meeting grade-level proficiency. Wisconsin should monitor its data to ensure that it is appropriately balancing higher-level performance with its grade-level expectations.


In determining the academic achievement metric, the state’s plan says it will average multiple years of data with “greater weight to more recent years’ data,” but it should specify how it would weight each year of data.


Wisconsin’s growth model, Student Growth Percentiles (SGP), compares the progress students make against their similarly performing peers and converts those scores into percentiles.


While this approach is relatively simple to calculate and interpret, it does not ensure students cover the content they need to master to stay on track toward mastery at graduation. Additionally, given that SGPs can be used across assessments and the fact that Wisconsin has few additional measures for high schools, the state seems to have missed an opportunity to include it as a measure for high schools.




Wisconsin lowered its minimum subgroup size to 20 students a few years ago, and it plans to keep it at 20 for the purposes of ESSA.


While Wisconsin decided to keep its subgroup size at 20 students as a result of stakeholder feedback, the state also provided data showing that higher percentages of schools and at-risk subgroups would be captured under an even lower group size, and the state may find opportunities to make improvements to its plan by lowering the subgroup size again.


Wisconsin says it will report indicator-level scores for each subgroup of students, but it does not mention including a distinct weight for subgroups in its school rating system.


Instead, the state says it will identify schools with consistently underperforming subgroups if “any subgroup is in the bottom 10 percent of statewide performance for all students and in the bottom 10 percent of statewide subgroup performance across all indicators.” However, it’s unclear what this means exactly. For example, it isn’t clear whether Wisconsin would identify the bottom 10 percent of each subgroup, or whether it would only look at the bottom 10 percent of all subgroups. Those would have different ramifications for schools in the state.


Wisconsin is proposing to include students who are former English learners in the English learner subgroup.


Since exiting students tend to have higher performance, the state should monitor its data to ensure it is not masking the performance of students who are still receiving services. The state plan should also include information about how long recently exited ELs will be included in the English learner subgroup.


Wisconsin will give English language proficiency a slightly higher weight in schools with higher concentrations of English learners.


Wisconsin’s ESSA plan also explicitly references its State Systemic Improvement Plan under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which focuses on increasing literacy rates for students with disabilities. Including it in the state’s ESSA plan demonstrates a commitment to educating all students, and to integrating and aligning state improvement efforts.


Finally, Wisconsin could strengthen its plan by explaining what will happen to schools in the event their overall participation rate, or the participation rate of any particular subgroup, falls below 95 percent. 



Wisconsin has articulated a method for identifying schools with very low overall performance, but it could provide greater clarity for how it will identify other schools in need of improvement.


The state will rank schools based on the indicators mentioned above, and then identify the bottom 5 percent of schools for comprehensive support. Similarly, the state says it will identify for comprehensive support any high school with a graduation rate below 67 percent, but it doesn’t specify whether this would be based on the state’s four- or seven-year graduation rate.


Wisconsin’s system does not provide sufficient detail about how student subgroups factor into identification for improvement, or how the state plans to identify “Schools of Recognition.”


Without this information, the accountability system could mask the performance of student subgroups. Moreover, schools with low-performing subgroups can linger as targeted-support schools for up to six years, which seems to be too long to wait to elevate additional support structures.


The state’s decision to include a category of “Schools of Recognition” is commendable, but it’s not clear how it would be identifying those schools and if that process aligns with its newly proposed system.




Wisconsin’s plan includes a list of rigorous, research-based interventions that may be used to support schools.


The state also deserves credit for school improvement strategies that are based on providing additional supports and technical assistance, which the state refers to as “implementation science,” rather than attempting to influence change through prescribed, punitive actions. 


However, the state says it is against “overly prescriptive” interventions, and there’s a risk that without guidance from the state, districts may use strategies that are not based on sound evidence.


The state could help address this concern by including more information about how interventions for comprehensive support schools will differ from those in need of more targeted support. Additionally, the state has not mentioned how it plans to use the 7 percent of federal funds dedicated to school improvement activities, or if and how it intends to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent set-aside.


If low-performing schools continue to struggle, the state has the power to direct interventions, however, Wisconsin does not lay out criteria for how it would decide which interventions it would direct and when it might employ them.


The state has the power to direct interventions such as: employing a standard, consistent, research-based curriculum throughout the district; implementing a system of academic and behavioral supports and early interventions for students; providing additional learning time; or implementing changes in administrative and personnel structures and monitoring the school district’s finances. However, more information is needed on how the state would decide which interventions to use.




Wisconsin’s plan has the foundation for strong exit criteria, but lacks details.


Wisconsin states that comprehensive and targeted support schools will exit improvement status if they no longer meet the reason for their identification, if the school demonstrates “sustained progress toward the long-term goals,” and if the school demonstrates “evidence of systems, structures, and/or procedures that ensure sustained and sustainable high-quality improvement planning and practices.” These could be the foundation for strong exit criteria, but the state does not give a definition of sustained progress and what that would look like, or an explanation for how the state would determine if the school had sustainable practices in place.


Moreover, since Wisconsin is using a normative identification system where schools are compared with each other, an identified school could jump in the rankings if other schools regress, even without improving its own performance.




Wisconsin seems to have conducted a number of stakeholder engagement processes over the last 10 years.


This suggests that there is sufficient buy-in and processes for feedback and continuous improvement. The state should be commended in particular for gathering feedback from equity advocates through the State Superintendent’s Equity Council.


The state’s plan does not lay out a clear plan for what engagement will look like going forward during the implementation process.


It would be helpful to include more information about how schools and their communities will provide feedback to the state when it comes to school improvement activities, and how the state will learn from its own efforts during the implementation process.


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