On Monday, the Madison Metropolitan School District released its annual report for the 2016-2017 school year. Results were positive at the elementary and high school levels, but the district said it needs to do more to support middle school students and close achievement gaps for African-American students. 

The report focused on the district’s three strategic framework goals, which measure student achievement, student access to rigorous and challenging coursework, and how students, families and staff members feel about their schools.

The district “continues to make progress” by “dismantling the institutional barriers that stand in our students’ and schools’ way,” said Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham at a press conference at Glendale Elementary School on Monday. She said the goal is to create “transformational change” for all students.

Although the report showed increases in reading and math proficiency and growth for elementary school students, the same metrics were mixed for middle school students.

At the elementary school level, 45 percent of fifth-graders received a score of proficient or better on the 2016-2017 MAP reading exam and 60 percent of those students reached their individualized reading growth goals for the year.

For math, the numbers were 46 percent for proficiency and 65 percent for growth. Over the past four years, students reading proficiency increased 11 percentage points in reading and 8 percentage points in math.

The largest achievement gap in elementary school reading exists between African-American and white students, with 18 percent of black third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders passing their reading MAP test in the last school year compared to 70 percent of their white peers. The numbers increased by 11 and 13 percentage points, respectively, over four years.

At the middle school level, 38 percent of eighth-graders passed the MAP reading exam, and 44 percent were proficient in math. The numbers represent a 4- and 5-percentage point increase, respectively, in the last four years. 

Overall, eighth-grade students' growth in both subject areas decreased over a four year period, with 48 percent of students reaching their individualized growth goals in reading, and 58 percent in math.

The largest achievement gap in middle school math proficiency exists between African-American and white students in sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grades, with 12 percent of black students passing their MAP math exam last year compared to 69 percent of their white peers.

At the press conference, Cheatham recognized the need for increased progress at the middle school level and plans to focus next school year on more professional development and other supports to address challenges.

“In middle school, we have some bright spots, but we have not yet gotten the traction that we need, despite significant effort from our district and school staff,” she said. “Next year, we’ll have intensive support around our middle schools to address their unique needs and challenges.”

At the high school level, the district saw a 1-percentage point decrease in graduation rates in the 2015-2016 school year compared to the year before with 79 percent of MMSD students graduating from high school in four years.

There were single-digit percentage point gains in graduation rates for white, black, and Hispanic student groups, as well as English language learners. However, graduation rates remained steady at 47 percent for students with disabilities, decreased by 1 percentage point, to 83 percent, for Asian students and fell by 5 percentage points, to 77 percent, for multiracial students.

The biggest gaps in graduation rates in the district exist between African-American and white students, with 59 percent of black students graduating in four years compared to 90 percent of their white peers.

The report highlighted a 91 percent, six-year graduation rate across the district.

Of the high school results, Cheatham said, “We are no way satisfied, but we see strong signs our high schools are on the path to improvement.”

Cheatham also highlighted other supports coming to high schools next year, including Personalized Pathways and the district’s work with Equal Opportunities Schools to get more underrepresented students in advanced placement classes.

During the press conference, Cheatham also recognized how great the charge is to show academic improvement for the district's most vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on black students.

“When I say ‘transformational change,’ I mean vastly better results for our most marginalized students. Results that reflect their inherent capability, that reflect their strengths, and that reflect their future potential,” she said. “That’s why we spotlight results for students of color throughout our report — African-American students in particular — and why we are so focused on changing their trajectory in MMSD.”

Cheatham talked about the focus on culturally responsive teaching as a tool to build relationships with students and improve academic outcomes.

“Our major district-wide focus will be building meaningful and trusting relationships between teachers and students in the classroom, especially African-American students, to pave the way for academic challenge and deeper learning,” she said.

“This focus on culturally responsive teaching is critical to accelerating results in MMSD.”