Wisconsin Schools Are Getting Graded

While it’ll be some time until students even think about receiving their first report cards of the year, Wisconsin schools will be receiving brand-new report cards of their own come this September.

The new report cards have been designed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to rank schools along four main priority areas: student achievement, student growth, the closing of gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged student groups, and probable postsecondary success.

Sevastopol Schools Superintendent Linda Underwood says the report cards are just one part of the state’s plans to step it up in education over the course of the next few years. Another part of the plan involves creating higher standards for students by raising the bar for proficiency on the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination, or WKCE, a statewide test which students take at various grade levels.

“It’s the same test, but there are different standards,” says Underwood. “The worst case scenario is someone who previously met expectations will get the same score and now doesn’t meet expectations. They don’t know less; it’s just a different score.”

While measuring current student achievement is important, it’s not something that’s particularly new. Measuring student growth over a number of years in multiple groups, however, is something many schools have not done in the past.

“It’s just good business,” says Washington Island Schools Superintendent Tim Raymond of the new growth measures. “With this we can be tracking students to see if we’re meeting their needs.”

The disadvantaged student groups that the new report cards take into account include students with disabilities, English language learners, students from families with low incomes, and minority students.

According to the DPI’s guide to the new report cards, one of the established strengths of the No Child Left Behind Act was its emphasis on traditionally underserved, underperforming student groups.

Raymond agrees with the DPI’s assessment.

“Many people looked and saw that as one of the strong pieces of that legislation,” he says. “What [the growth measure] is supposed to do is tell us if a school district is closing the gap between these types of students.”

At Washington Island, where 68 students were enrolled last year, there aren’t enough students in the disadvantaged student groups to make the new tracking system statistically relevant, but Raymond says the state is working on establishing other methods for smaller schools to achieve similar results.

Underwood says there are not enough students to conduct a measure of each group individually at Sevastopol, so it’s likely two or more groups will be combined and tracked as a super-group composed of 20 or more students.

“Ideally, all these groups are improving all the time,” says Underwood, “but historically we know that’s not true.”

Stricter standards and better tracking are all part of the state’s efforts to boost both graduation rates and postsecondary readiness. By 2017, the DPI hopes to increase Wisconsin’s high school graduation rate from 85.7 to 92 percent, and increase college and career readiness from 32 to 67 percent.

Underwood says the next step in the process will be a revamp of teacher evaluations, which will now be based off of data from the new report cards.

“They’re doing some field testing on that in different school districts this year,” she says. “Half of it is report card related data…and the other half is what we’re used to, which is how is your instruction, your class management, how do you use your resources, how’s your professionalism.”

According to Raymond, 150 to 200 schools from throughout the state, including Washington Island, will be meeting in Madison this year to develop the new teacher evaluation model.

The new standards, testing, and evaluation currently only apply to math and reading, so one big question is how to evaluate teachers who don’t teach those subjects.

Underwood says Sevastopol will be looking at what other school districts are doing as far as those teachers’ evaluations.

Eventually, the WKCE test will change to conform to the state’s newly adopted Common Core curriculum, which encourages more conceptual and interactive learning.

Underwood says it’s important that Sevastopol and other schools begin acclimating to the new curriculum now, before it becomes part of the tests which students and schools will be graded on.

“We’re deeply involved in aligning with the Common Core and learning about what kind of assessments students will be tested on in the future,” she says. “We need to do that and not just throw it at them.”