WI Legislature Acts Against High Stakes Tests

K-12 Testing

The Wisconsin legislature has dealt strong blows against state laws requiring students to pass high stakes tests for grade promotion and high school graduation, granting a significant victory to testing reform advocates.


After the legislative finance committee voted 13-3 to eliminate the high school graduation test and block its funding, the Assembly and Senate agreed to discontinue the test. Both houses also agreed to amend the state law which mandated that 4th and 8th grade students pass all five parts of the state test to be promoted. The new law will require districts to create promotion criteria that would use the test as only one factor. Also defeated was a proposal submitted by Governor Thommy Thompson that would have eliminated a provision allowing parents to opt their children out of the test. The final step before these changes can become law will be approval (or veto) by the governor. The graduation test was to have first affected the class of 2003.


Legislators explained that a major organizing effort led by parents convinced them to halt the use of use of high stakes exams for graduation and promotion. Connie Gavin, from Advocates for Education of Whitefish Bay (AFE), which led a statewide drive to organize parents, said one legislator called it "one of the most significant grass roots efforts" he had ever seen. The state PTA was also active in supporting local members in taking action against the test.


According to Meredith Scrivner, another AFE leader, the campaign included parents from diverse communities who together "decided to take action" using a "positive and constructive approach."


"While parents had many different views on why the testing program was harmful to students, they all agreed that it must be ended. They obviously got through to the legislators with their views," she added.


Rep. Frank Urban (R-Elm Grove) explained his vote against the measure,
remarking "[T]his was a bad idea when the governor proposed it; it's a bad idea now," adding he thought that using one test to determine graduation is "unreasonable." Another Republican, Rep. Carol Owens of Oshkosh, put it more bluntly: "This is a really stinky idea. This is not our business (because) this belongs in the hand of the local school board."