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Reports: Nearly half of Madison schools need to provide additional support for black students, students with disabilities

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Inside the halls of West High School in Madison. West was one of 25 schools that were identified under the Every Student Succeeds Act reports as needing to provide targeted support to certain groups of students.

Almost half of the schools in the Madison School District need to provide additional support to certain groups of students, according to accountability reports compiled by the state earlier this year.

At schools that were identified in the reports, black students and students with disabilities were most commonly found to have poor outcomes compared to their peers — a trend mirrored by schools across the state. The reports were released publicly for the first time in March as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Cap Times reviewed the reports and created a map showing which schools around Madison the state identified. Key takeaways include:

  • 25 of 51 schools in MMSD, or 49%, had at least one group of students identified as low-performing and needing at least one level of targeted support.

  • Several schools in the suburban school districts, including Middleton-Cross Plains, Sun Prairie and Verona were identified.

  • School districts were notified in Dec. 2018 before the reports were made public in March 2019.

  • Of the roughly 2,100 public schools in Wisconsin, about 175 schools (8.3%) were identified under the state’s ESSA accountability reports.

  • All the Madison area school districts informed the Department of Public Instruction they’ll tell the agency by June 2020 what their district will do to support the student groups identified at each school.

  • School districts are required to create and monitor school improvement plans approved by the state. In some schools with more severe identifications, plan goals must be met within six years or else their identification category will worsen, according to the state ESSA plan approved in Jan. 2018.

 Although this year was the first with new federal accountability measures, the identifications came as no surprise to MMSD.

"Because we have the state report cards, and have a very robust strategic framework approach as well as robust school improvement plan approach, the federal report cards give us some more information, but it's largely the same information and things we have already known," Andrew Statz, the district's executive director of research, accountability and data use said in an interview.

Statz said the district's strategic framework and school improvement plans align with what they'll tell DPI of by June 2020, and that they've heard from DPI that MMSD is well positioned to satisfy those requirements.

"This is not going to be a brand new plan because we already have mechanisms in place for public input for data review, for monitoring at the student group level and so on," Statz said. "So what we have done already for this and the framework is going to satisfy any reporting requirements to the state and any reporting requirements to the federal government. We just happen to be well-positioned to satisfy that requirement."

DPI is helping districts pull relevant data to aid in creating robust school improvement plans that can help address the needs of student groups identified under the ESSA reports. Though districts are allowed to take until June 2020 — which is when the next preliminary budget would be approved and likely when Madison will already know who its next superintendent will be — DPI expects many school districts will come up with a plan much sooner.

"We wanted to give schools and districts time to do authentic planning and adhere to the tenants of implementation science so they could successfully implement plans," Jonas Zuckerman, the DPI's director of Title 1 and School Support, said. "What we've seen in the past is schools, due to compliance time-frames or artificial time-frames, get rushed into implementation of plans without authentically consulting stakeholders and developing well-thought-out plans.”

Madison Area ESSA Identification Map Key
  • ESSA Identifications
  • Targeted and Additional Targeted Support
  • Additional Targeted Support
  • Targeted Support
Madison Area school districts ESSA identifications

Two systems aim to provide accountability

The passage of ESSA in 2015 introduced a new ranking system to identify the lowest performing schools and student groups for targeted support from districts. This differs from the state accountability system, namely displayed through the DPI state report cards, which aim to differentiate districts and schools across all performance levels. The state report cards, for example, provide a rating from 0 to 100 for each school, while the federal reports do not.

While the two accountability systems have differing goals, not incorporating the federal identifications more thoroughly in state report cards can cause confusion for parents and community members seeking a clearer picture of how schools are doing.

"Central to ESSA and its original predecessor is being able to shine a light on whether schools are serving all students regardless of their race or ethnic background or whether they speak English as a second language," Brennan McMahon Parton, the public policy director at the Data Quality Campaign, said. "When report cards don't include that information and particularly when a school looks like it's doing pretty well, but we can't understand if that means pretty good for every kid or just some kids, we are leaving families, communities and lawmakers in the dark about how well our schools are really doing in serving its students."

Statz noted that the differences in the two report card systems, such as different cutoff scores and how they categorize results differently, can lead to differing messages. But often when a student group is identified as low-performing, it's identified in state report cards as well as in districts' internal data reviews.

"If it's being identified in one instrument, it's likely going to be identified in several," Statz said. "For example, identified African American students needs and needs of students receiving special education are going to show up in federal report cards in similar ways to state report cards. Because we engage in regular data review and planning, those are student groups we know to focus on already."

McMahon-Parton, whose organization issued a report earlier this year analyzing state report cards across the country, said Wisconsin is not alone in facing the challenge of trying to make data compiled through ESSA more transparent and accessible to the public. While DPI has some ESSA data available on its public database, the state report cards, as well as those of many other states across the country don't include dis-aggregated student performance information that the Data Quality Campaign believes is critical for states to change.

"State leaders are making decisions about the quality of these schools based on a variety of different factors, but including whether or not they're serving students of color and students for whom English isn't their first language is what transparency needs to look like," McMahon-Parton said. "How can we act on it? How can we advocate for something better, and how can we at least understand what's going on inside that school building?"

It's unclear when or if district and school report cards will be revamped to incorporate data from ESSA in the future. Iowa and Illinois, for example, released newer report cards for schools in 2018 as the federal classifications under ESSA became known. DPI pointed to the individual school accountability reports created under ESSA when asked about district and school report cards under ESSA.

Statz said that while the ESSA accountability reports give districts a chance to "check their math" and step back to see if they are deploying the right strategies to help students, having data and identifications made more frequently could be more helpful.

"I don't think (the ESSA reports) show anything entirely brand new, but it is affirming to see the same results play out in a few different ways," Statz said. "It would be nice to have a publicly published system like this more frequently and more readily, because now the data is already a year old and some of our data review is much more frequent and real time than that."

Surrounding school districts see need for additional support

The statewide trend of extra support needed for students with disabilities and black students persisted across Madison’s suburbs.

In the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, Glacier Creek Middle School and West Middleton Elementary were identified as needing to provide support for black students.  

"We've been reviewing the data from the ESSA reports since we got them in December 2018 with our district services team, executive leadership team and buildings administrators and their staff to work on making plans and using the data alongside our continuous improvement process and strategic plans," MaryBeth Paulisse, Middleton's director of curriculum, assessment and 4K, said. "They've given us more data to have these conversations as a team."

 MCPASD is also planning to use their school improvement plans as a way to inform how they address the ESSA identifications.

"It's a journey. It's not just something that happens overnight," Rainey Briggs, MCPSD's director of elementary education said. "You look at the disparities--none of the disparities that we have in our data just happened overnight. They're the cause and part of systems that are put into place and we want to do everything we can to make sure we are supporting and guiding the needs of students and families across the district."

In the Verona Area School District, Badger Ridge Middle School needs to provide support to students with disabilities and black students. At Country View Elementary, VASD needs to provide support for black students, according to the reports.

VASD spokeswoman Kelly Kloepping noted that Badger Ridge and Country View will each have a language, literacy and equity specialist working at the schools in the upcoming school year to help support students.

"Each building has a Continuous Improvement Team which will analyze data and make determinations about equitable resource allocation in order to address student needs," Kloepping said in an email. "The VASD Board of Education just recently enacted a strategic plan and board goal regarding eliminating predictable outcomes for students. The buildings will use the strategic plan and board goal to guide their work."

In Sun Prairie, Bird Elementary and Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School need to offer more support for students with disabilities. Creekside Elementary, Patrick Marsh Middle School and Westside Elementary have to provide support for black students. Cardinal Heights needs to provide extra support for black students as well, according to the reports.

DPI said earlier in June that Sun Prairie's ESSA plan has not been approved yet and is still in the revision process.

Patricia Lux-Weber, a spokesperson for the Sun Prairie Area School District, said the five schools identified in the report are receiving additional support.

"In addition to extra funding and training, we are working with AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) to do a deep dive analysis into the data and put together 2-year school improvement plans," Lux-Weber wrote in an email.


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