All 16 Dane County school districts earned three or more stars on the state’s 2015-16 report cards, meaning they met or exceeded expectations for educating children.
The top county score went to Waunakee, the only one of the 16 to earn all five stars. That placed it in the top category: “significantly exceeds expectations.” Only 53 other districts in the state out of 424 earned that highest honor.
This is the first year the report cards used a five-star rating system. The stars correspond to one of five categories: “fails to meet expectations,” “meets few expectations,” “meets expectations,” “exceeds expectations” and “significantly exceeds expectations.”
The Madison School District earned three stars. Its score, the lowest of the 16 county districts, placed it in the middle of the “meets expectations” category.
The report cards were released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction. In addition to each district getting a score, individual schools were rated.
School-level results in Madison were mixed. Two schools — Van Hise and Shorewood Hills elementary schools — significantly exceeded expectations. Twelve schools exceeded expectations, 16 met expectations and 11 met few expectations. Four failed to meet expectations: La Follette High School, Cherokee Middle School, Sandburg Elementary School, and Badger Rock Middle School.
No other county schools landed in the bottom category. At this point, there are no specific state consequences associated with the lowest rating.
Andrew Statz, Madison’s chief accountability officer, said the report card data will be taken into consideration when crafting the district’s annual improvement plans for each school.
Schools and districts receive a score on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student reading and math test scores and growth, closing of achievement gaps between student subgroups, and various measurements of post-secondary readiness. Deductions can be made based on test participation, absenteeism and dropout rates.
This is a “reset” year for the school accountability measure. No report cards were issued last year due to upheaval in the state’s standardized testing program, and major changes ordered by the state Legislature render comparisons to prior years invalid, according to DPI.
For the first time, the report cards take into account a school’s poverty rate, a response to criticism that test scores alone don’t tell a full story. Prior report card results, critics said, were largely predictable based simply on concentrations of low-income students.
Using a complex weighting formula, schools with high poverty rates now fare better than in prior years if they demonstrate growth in educating low-income students. Generally, the higher the proportion of low-income students, the greater the weight assigned to student growth, as opposed to straightforward achievement.
“It’s a truer depiction of how things are going at a school,” Statz said. “It gives credit to schools that are moving low-income students in the right direction.”
The new measure can result in surprises, perhaps shaking up community perceptions. In some cases, schools that typically would not fare so well based solely on test scores leapfrogged over schools with more elevated reputations. It’s a strong argument for understanding the nuances of a school’s student population when looking at the report card scores, DPI officials said.
Further clouding the picture, especially in Madison, is the punitive nature of the test participation component.
The goal for test participation on the state’s standardized tests remains 100 percent for all students and for each subgroup with at least 20 students. The report cards include two test participation calculations: one is based only on current-year test participation data and the other is based on up to three years of data.
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Schools that fall below a 95 percent test participation rate for all students or for any subgroup for both the current-year and three-year rate receive a five-point deduction from their overall score.
Schools that fall below an 85 percent test participation rate for all students or for any subgroup for both the current-year and three-year rate receive a 10-point deduction.
This had major ramifications in Madison, which has had high parent opt-out rates the past two years. Some parents have said they philosophically oppose the amount of time spent on testing, while others have taken issue with the instability of the state’s testing program. The state has administered three different tests the past three years.
During the 2013-14 school year in Madison, only 0.2 percent of students opted out of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam. The next year, the number surged to about 7 percent when the state administered the Badger Exam for the first and only time. Last spring, about 4 percent of district students opted out of the new Forward Exam.
On the newly issued report cards, 24 of 45 schools in Madison were docked points due to low test participation. Eighteen lost five points, while six lost the full 10 points.
For 12 schools, that meant getting knocked down an entire category. Here’s one example: Lowell Elementary, a generally well-regarded school, would have scored solidly in the “meets expectations” category but lost five points due to low test participation and landed in the “meets few expectations” category.
Two subgroups at Lowell — white students and students with disabilities — were below the 95 percent test participation threshold on both the one- and three-year measures and in both English and math.
Of the four Madison schools that landed in the bottom category, three — La Follette High School, Cherokee Middle School and Sandburg Elementary School — would not be there except for the test participation deductions.
Although absenteeism also plays a role in the formula, Statz said the deductions for test participation across the district were “driven largely” by opt-outs.
“These are really big deductions with high stakes,” Statz said. “We support families and their right to choose, and it’s on us to explain the benefits of assessments.”
Across the state, more than 82 percent of public schools and 91 percent of districts earned three or more stars.
This was the first year that schools in the state’s three private-school voucher programs began submitting data to DPI using a new data collection system. But the schools did not get scores or ratings because report cards require more than one year of data.
Nearly 200 schools received an alternate rating — either “satisfactory progress” or “needs improvement” — rather than a number score because they are new, don’t have enough test-takers, serve exclusively at-risk students, or serve only grades kindergarten through second. Three Madison elementary schools — Franklin, Midvale and Lapham — fell into this category. All earned the “satisfactory progress” rating. Shabazz City High School, a Madison alternative school, also received the “satisfactory progress” rating.
A searchable database is available at dpi.wi.gov.