When it comes to rating school district academic achievement year-by-year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s annual “report cards” tell a story with many details, area school leaders said after the DPI released report card information on Nov. 12, 2019.
For example, overall scores are often influenced by the presence (or absence) of three key student subgroups: English language learners, low socio-economic students (aka those from families who qualify for free and/or reduced price school meals) and students with disabilities.
Area school leaders pointed out that the report card scoring system is weighted to go up if those groups showed academic growth, rates of graduation, or school attendance.
But if there weren’t at least 20 students in each group, the district doesn’t get a score, and that can hurt, especially if the overall student test scores were static or didn’t increase much.
School administrators also say that the high school scores may be too heavily dependent on the ACT, a college prep test.
The challenge is to motivate students to study hard for the test even if they plan to go right into the workforce after graduation, or join the military, or go to tech school. In the News-Shield circulation area, there are many high school students who fit into those categories
At the Barron Area School District board of education meeting on Nov. 18, school principals were asked to comment on the scores achieved in each of their buildings. All schools scored in the “meets excpectations” category.
High School Principal Chad Buss noted the school’s 71.8 score showed improvement in three of the four areas (student achievement, school growth, closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness).
“For the first time ever, we have an overall school growth score” that measures the progress made by the same group of students from year to year, Buss said.
“Our math score is below the state average (21.7 versus an average of 28.7) so we want to match or beat that next year,” he said.
Riverview Middle School’s 70.7 score is down from last year’s 72.4
“We were static in student achievement and down a bit for school growth,” Scott Stralka, principal, said. “It was nothing drastic but we’ll work with our staff to look more closely into how and why this happened,” he said.
Elementary principal Jennifer Clemens, speaking for Woodland, Ridgeland-Dallas and Almena, noted that scores rose in two of the three schools (Woodland and Ridgeland – Almena’s score slipped marginally from 83.3 to 80.7.
“I would love to see (Woodland Elementary’s score) up in terms of the state average … but … school growth is up quite a bit from last year,” she said. At Almena, the school population had changed but the achievement level “is still outstanding,” she said.
Clemens noted that Ridgeland-Dallas’ achievement and growth scores are both ahead of the state average.
At Cameron, the high school score rose dramatically from 58.5 to 68.4, the middle school’s 74.3 was nearly the same as last year’s 76.8, and the elementary school improved from 69.5 to 73.4
In a Nov. 14 interview, District Administrator Joe Leschisin noted that a relatively a lack of important subgroups had an influence on the high school score, which was average compared with other districts.
“If you’re going to compare district-to-district, you need to look for similar breakdowns in the (student demographics of) socio/economic status, ethnicity and disabilities,” Leschisin said.
As an example, he used St. Croix Central High School, in Hammond, a growing Twin Cities suburb. It had an overall score of 82, which, on the surface, looks like its students are performing far better than other area districts.
“But only 13 percent of the (St. Croix Central) student body” comes from a low socio-economic background, he noted.
Students at St. Croix Central scored higher than Cameron on student achievement, but lower in “school growth,” he noted.
At Prairie Farm, scores rose at all three schools, including the elementary (from 75.1 to 75.6), middle (74.4 to 77.1) and high school (from 57.8 to 76.7).
School Principal Casey Fossum said that it’s important to note “there are many factors that play into the score -- and as stated by DPI – the scores are not meant to compare districts.”
Unfortunately, most observers “look at the overall score and don’t go much further,” he added.
A big change for Prairie Farm is the fact that this year’s high school report card includes a “practice exam” that students take as they prepare for the ACT.
Adding the so-called “Aspire test” meant that Prairie Farm could “receive scores in all four priority areas of the report card,” Fossum added.
“In the past, 80 percent of our score was focused on one priority area and didn’t allow us a fair comparison compared to other districts with higher populations. Having a larger sample size gives us a better picture of what is truly happening within our high school,” he said.