Educators use report-card data to modify teaching and learning strategies
During the bad old days of the No Child Left Behind Act, state and federal governments judged public schools almost entirely on standardized test scores.
That’s no longer the case. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issues school report cards as part of its accountability system for every publicly funded school and district in the state. Those reports weigh four categories – Achievement, Growth, Target Group Outcomes and On-Track to Graduation – and based on those ratings, an overall score is calculated that places entities somewhere on a five-point spectrum ranging from “fails to meet expectations” to “significantly exceeds expectations.”
On the recently released report cards, all five Door County districts received a rating of “exceeds expectations” based on the 2020-21 school year. Even if the DPI and federal government still focused almost entirely on standardized test scores, local districts all did better than state averages in the Achievement category on tests.
Educators Say Some Learning Slipped during Pandemic
A deeper look into report-card data showed that some of the districts saw a few more students achieving at a Below Basic level in required math and English testing and slightly fewer achieving at Proficient or Advanced levels compared with the 2018-19 school year. (The state did not issue report cards for 2019-20, when, at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, state standardized testing was not completed.)
Local educators, including Gibraltar High School Principal Steven DeBroux, said that with students often studying remotely and having less in-classroom communication with teachers in fall 2020, districts nationwide saw a few more students falling slightly behind or doing a little bit worse on tests. Then again, he said, educators can look at in-district assessments and state report-card data and see that a lot of learning did take place in 2020-21.
For the Sturgeon Bay School District’s overall score of 80.6, the Growth categories factored heavily at 36.1% because districts with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged or English-language learners have more weight placed on growth. The district received scores of 85 (the state average is 66) for growth in English language arts and 79.3 (state average is 66) in math. The district also surpassed the state average for Achievement in English and math, though the state used that category for only 13.9% of the score tally for Sturgeon Bay.
Sturgeon Bay Superintendent Dan Tjernagel said he is pleased that report cards focus on achievement, growth, target-group outcomes and goals of getting as many students as possible on track to graduation.
The Gibraltar School District received an overall score of 74.6, with the state giving the greatest priority (29.4% of the grade) to Growth. The district had a score of 75.5% compared to a state average of 66 for growth in English language arts and a growth score of 60.3 (state average is 66.0) for mathematics.
The state placed the lowest priority on Achievement, though Gibraltar blew past state averages on tests and assessments, with a 79.9 score in English and 72.0 in math. And Gibraltar did better than the state average in all four portions of the On-Track to Graduation category.
“Despite our best efforts, teaching and learning has been challenging during the pandemic,” said Gibraltar Superintendent Tina Van Meer. “The district will continue to monitor student learning and make adjustments as needed to provide whole-group, small-group and individualized support to ensure that all students reach targeted proficiency levels.”
The Sevastopol School District, which received the highest overall score of all the districts at 81.2, received equal weighting in all four categories of Achievement, Growth, Target Group Outcomes and On-Track to Graduation. Sevastopol bettered state numbers in all On-Track to Graduation categories for a score of 93 (100 in eighth-grade math), and did better than the state district wide in English (82.5 to 61.4) and math (89.0 to 59.4).
“Our middle school report card was another good one at 94%,” said Kyle Luedtke, Sevastopol Schools’ superintendent. “That’s something we’re pleased with.”
Luedtke said he thinks his district held steady in the Achievement area because it had an alternate-day schedule during fall 2020. Students saw their teachers in the classroom every other weekday and had homework and assignments sent home with them for the other days last fall. Some students lost a couple of weeks of in-person learning when some teachers quarantined because of the coronavirus.
As with Sturgeon Bay and Gibraltar, the Southern Door School District, with an overall score of 71.5, had 29.5% of its rating in the Growth categories. Southern Door did slightly better than the state averages in growth in English (69.8 to 66) and math (67.9 to 66), and also better in the On-Track to Graduation categories and in Achievement (65.6 to 61.4 state-average scores in English, and 68.4 to the state average 59.4 in math).
Southern Door Superintendent Chris Peterson said that positive reinforcement and engagement in classwork are critical for success.
“Educators also rely on families to help their students perform their best in school and on state assessments,” Peterson said. “The staff at Southern Door are committed to meeting the social-emotional needs of all students while fostering a growth mindset. Growth mindset leads to achievement.”
For the Washington Island School District, which received an overall score of 78.8, the state put 61.8% of its weighting on Achievement. The district bettered state averages in English (72.9% to the state average of 61.4% of students meeting or exceeding expectations) and math (63.9; the state is average 59.4). The district beat state averages in the Growth categories, including a 100.0 in English.
Washington Island Superintendent Michelle Kanipes said the district’s overall report-card scores have risen steadily during the past few years, and the staff deserves the credit. She said the staff does a good job of helping to intervene to keep students on track, and the teachers successfully communicate expectations for behavior and academic rigor in their classrooms.
“We believe we’re doing some great things up here,” Kanipes said.
State Report Cards: Overall Score Summary
All scores for these school districts “exceed expectations.”
Sturgeon Bay: 80.6
Washington Island: 78.8
Gibraltar Area: 74.6
Southern Door: 71.5