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Wisconsin schools stay the course in latest report cards

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School districts across Wisconsin largely held steady academically last year, according to statewide report cards the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released Tuesday. But the pandemic continues to cloud the measurements.

Of the 377 districts that received the annual report cards, 95% rated at least three stars, meaning they met or exceeded expectations in 2021-22. The same percentage of school districts scored that high on the previous year’s report cards.

All Dane County school districts met or exceeded expectations in 2021-22.

Report cards are an annual measurement of how school districts and individual schools are performing and one way DPI measures educational success, DPI spokesperson Abigail Swetz said. They have helped shape the agency’s latest budget requests, which include an increase to per-pupil funding, increase in the reimbursement rate for special education, additional mental health support in schools and universal school meals.

“That’s where we think the improvement can really be made, and that’s where we think we can keep moving the needle to try and make sure our students are getting what they need and able to achieve in the way we know they can,” Swetz said.

The report cards are based on student achievement, academic growth, improvement among academically struggling students and whether students are on track to graduate.

They’re based on a 100-point scale and are weighted for factors including a district’s poverty rate.

There are five rankings. Five-star schools significantly exceed expectations, while schools earning one star failed to meet expectations.

Meeting expectations in Dane County

All 16 school districts completely or mostly in Dane County met or exceeded expectations, an improvement from the previous year.

The Marshall School District made big strides in boosting its rating above three stars after being the only district in the county to not meet all of its expectations last year.

The district’s score improved from 54 last year, or a two-star “meets few expectations” rating, to 63 this year.

“The district and school report cards are improving thanks to the dedication, hard work and talents by our amazing scholars and staff,” Superintendent Dan Grady said.

Those improvements are in part due to a new literacy and math curriculum, as well as a new system of support for students, Grady said.

The Waunakee School District maintained the highest-scoring report card in the county, though its score dropped slightly this year from 83 to 80.7, which knocked it from its five-star rating.

“It is nice when you are seeing the highest score in the county, and I think that reflects really to the hard work of our students and the exceptional professionalism and efforts of our teachers and really all of our staff,” Waunakee Director of Communication and Instruction Tim Schell said.

But the drop in the district’s score still indicates room for improvement, he said, and is an example of the impact the pandemic has had on students.

“We had individual students and we had groups of students that had greater need for support even before the pandemic. And the pandemic exacerbated that,” he said, noting the district has focused particularly on outcomes for economically disadvantaged students.

The dip in scores for the district means “we really need to continue to focus on our improvement efforts,” Schell said. That includes updated elementary reading curriculum.

The Madison School District saw its score fall from 70.2 in 2020-21 to 67.5 in 2021-22, dropping it from “exceeds expectations” to “meets expectations.”

The district’s Capital High School had the lowest individual school report card in the county at 19.2, which means the school has failed to meet expectations. The newer alternative high school’s overall score was hurt by low scores on student achievement and chronic absenteeism, according to Capital High’s report card. The school similarly had a score of 19.4 in 2020-21 but didn’t have any scored report cards prior to the pandemic.

The next-lowest score in the county was 47.7, at Madison’s Black Hawk Middle School.

Overall, nine Dane County school districts saw scores drop, while the other seven improved, though most of the differences were small.

Changes and controversy

This is the second year DPI has released report cards since the pandemic disrupted learning in 2019-20, when no report cards were released. Because of the pandemic, the scores should be interpreted cautiously, DPI said, although lately the report cards have been catapulted into political discourse.

Republican lawmakers pushed back on changes to report card scoring metrics DPI made after the start of the pandemic. Some accused the agency of purposefully inflating scores last year, though DPI has denied any bias in making the changes.

Last spring, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers blocked a GOP bill that would have required the state to revert back to pre-pandemic metrics.

In addition to lowering the range of scores associated with the five rankings — a “meets expectation” score range was moved from 63-72.9 to 58-69.9, for example — the state also changed one of its metrics.

DPI started separately measuring outcomes for the lowest-achieving students in 2020-21 instead of measuring how schools were closing achievement gaps. This new metric focuses on a single, targeted group of students who are performing at the lowest levels. The change is designed to better focus on students with low test scores and to avoid big fluctuations in numbers from year to year.

“We believe that’s a more stable and simple measure, and just a more useful tool for schools and districts to identify where they are in terms of those lowest performers in the school, and to help the school continue to improve,” said Sam Bohrod, assistant director of DPI’s Office of Educational Accountability.

Across the state

In total, 269 school districts experienced no change from their 2020-21 scores, while 24 scored higher and 84 scored lower.

DPI also gives report cards for individual schools in the state. There were 1,920 public schools that were able to be scored, and 1,619, or 84%, met or exceeded expectations. Some schools are unable to be scored because there isn’t enough available data. According to DPI, 184 public schools, or 9%, were unable to be scored, and 228 private schools, or 58%, were unable to be scored.

There were 1,883 public schools that received report cards for both 2021-22 and 2020-21, and of those, 1,226 experienced no change in scores, while 231 moved up at least one rating category and 426 moved down at least one category.

Additionally, there were 163 private schools that were scored in 2021-22. Of those, 142 either met or exceeded expectations.

State report cards use up to three years of data to assess districts and schools. For this latest round of report cards, DPI used data from 2021-22, 2020-21 and 2018-19, skipping the peak pandemic year when no report cards were produced.

How Dane County schools rated

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released its latest set of report cards for districts and public schools on Tuesday. Here's how the 16 districts wholly or mostly in Dane County rated.

Scoring system: Significantly exceeds expectations: 83-100; Exceeds expectations: 70-82.9; Meets expectations: 58-69.9; Meets few expectations: 48-57.9; Fails to meet expectations: 0-47.9; AR: Alternative Rating.

District/school Score
Belleville Elementary 77.6
Belleville High 68.5
Belleville Middle 73.6
Cambridge Elementary 61.1
Cambridge High 70
Koshkonong Trails School AR
Nikolay Middle 65.7
DeForest High 70
DeForest Middle 68.1
Eagle Point Elementary 72.5
Windsor Elementary 78.9
Yahara Elementary 72.1
Deerfield Elementary 79.3
Deerfield High 64.7
Deerfield Middle 70.2
Allis Elementary 50.6
Badger Rock Middle 65.3
Black Hawk Middle 47.7
Capital High 19.2
Chavez Elementary 74.5
Cherokee Heights Middle 70.1
Crestwood Elementary 72.9
Henderson Elementary 73.6
East High 71.8
Elvehjem Elementary 75
Emerson Elementary 64.3
Franklin Elementary AR
Gompers Elementary 68.4
Hamilton Middle 81.5
Hawthorne Elementary 63.2
Huegel Elementary 76.1
Neustro Mundo AR
Wright Middle 77.5
Jefferson Middle 52.7
Kennedy Elementary 64.6
La Follette High 70.4
Lake View Elementary 67
Lapham Elementary AR
Leopold Elementary 56.5
Lincoln Elementary 79.3
Lindbergh Elementary 72.3
Lowell Elementary 73
Marquette Elementary 85.4
Memorial High 77.7
Mendota Elementary 54.2
Metro School AR
Midvale Elementary AR
Muir Elementary 73.9
Anana Elementary 65.7
O'Keeffe Middle 55.5
Olson Elementary 77.6
Orchard Ridge Elementary 77.5
Randall Elementary 91.9
Sandburg Elementary AR
Schenk Elementary 73.5
Sennett Middle 51.5
Shabazz City High AR
Sherman Middle 57.9
Shorewood Hills Elementary 94.5
Spring Harbor Middle 59.9
Stephens Elementary 78.6
Thoreau Elementary 65.6
Toki Middle 58.3
Van Hise Elementary 96.7
West High 79.5
Whitehorse Middle 56.5
JEDI Virtual K-12 70.6
Marshall Early Learning Center AR
Marshall Elementary 80.8
Marshall High 51.9
Marshall Middle 57
Conrad Elvehjem Primary School AR
Destinatinos Career Academy of Wisconsin High 60
Indian Mound Middle 75.3
Insight School of Wisconsin High AR
McFarland High 79.6
Waubesa Intermediate 81.8
Wisconsin Virtual Academy High (WIVA) 51.3
Wisconsin Virtual Academy K-8 (WIVA) 56.6
Clark Street Community School 61.8
Elm Lawn Elementary 90.6
Glacier Creek Middle 77.7
Kromery Middle 73.7
Middleton High 79.6
Northside Elementary 85.5
Park Elementary 80.4
Pope Farm Elementary 91.3
Sauk Trail Elementary 72.9
Sunset Ridge Elementary 86.4
West Middleton Elementary 83.4
Cottage Grove Elementary AR
Glacial Drumlin School 64.5
Monona Grove High 71.4
Monona Grove Liberal Arts Charter School 56
Granite Ridge School AR
Winnequah School 79
Mount Horeb High 69.4
Mount Horeb Intermediate 80.8
Mount Horeb Middle 74
Mount Horeb Primary Center AR
Brooklyn Elementary 79.3
Forest Edge Elementary 81.5
Netherwood Knoll Elementary 80.3
Oregon High 76.5
Oregon Middle 64.5
Prairie View Elementary 82.7
Rome Corners Intermediate 76.1
Fox Prairie Elementary 81.6
Kegonsa Elementary 59.5
River Bluff Middle 59.2
Sandhill Elementary 74.9
Stoughton High 75.1
C H Bird Elementary 48.9
Cardinal Heights Upper Middle 59.1
Creekside Elementary 64.7
Eastside Elementary 77.3
Horizon Elementary 81.3
Meadow View Elementary 70.2
Northside Elementary 59.9
Patrick Marsh Middle 63
Prairie Phoenix Academy AR
Prairie View Middle 63
Royal Oaks Elementary 77.5
Sun Prairie High 77.6
Token Springs Elementary 88.1
Westside Elementary 61
Badger Ridge Middle 55.2
Core Knowledge Charter School 80.6
Country View Elementary 77.6
Glacier Edge Elementary 80.4
New Century School 85.2
Savanna Oaks Middle 68.4
Stoner Prairie Elementary 71.6
Sugar Creek Elementary 72.9
Verona Area High 82.4
Verona Area International School 89.2
Arboretum Elementary 90.4
Waunakee Heritage Elementary 79.6
Waunakee High 78.4
Waunakee Intermediate 89.1
Waunakee Middle 72.7
Waunakee Prairie Elementary 85.9
Black Earth Elementary AR
Mazomanie Elementary 75.2
Wisconsin Heights High 85.4
Wisconsin Heights Middle 71.9

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Olivia Herken is an education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She is a former local government and political reporter for the La Crosse Tribune, and a graduate of the UW-Madison School of Journalism.

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