High marks on schools from DPI nice, but of ‘limited value’
When the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the first district report cards publicly last Tuesday, the Verona Area School District was one of 133 to receive an overall grade in the “Exceeds Expectations” category.
More importantly to VASD director of instruction Donna Behn, neither the district nor any of the schools within it fell below the “Meets Expectations” line.
“I think it was very positive,” she said of the report overall.
But superintendent Dean Gorrell cautioned that testing only shows a snapshot of student development and said the reports are of “limited value.”
This was the first year the DPI issued grades for districts as a whole. It began grading individual schools a year ago.
Of the state’s 424 public school districts, nine “significantly exceeded expectations,” 270 “meet expectations,” 10 “meet few expectations” and one “failed to meet expectations.” One was not rated.
Of the district’s schools, New Century Elementary School received the highest grade and was the only school in the top category. Four schools were marked as “exceeds” and four got “meets” grades. Verona Area International School was not rated, and the Exploration Academy opened this year. The lowest score was from Country View Elementary School, which received a 68.9.
The reports broke scores down into four priority areas: student achievement; student growth; closing gaps; and on-track and postsecondary readiness.
Verona scored well above the state average in the student achievement category, which measured the “level of knowledge and skills among students in the district.”
The DPI used Wisconsin Student Assessment System scores in reading and mathematics to determine the rating in this area.
VASD received a 74.9, compared to a 66.1 statewide score. Both math and reading scores were at least four points above the state’s.
At specific schools, scores ranged from Glacier Edge’s 66.6 to a high of 83.5 at New Century.
VASD also fared well in the student growth category, with a 67.8 rating compared to the state’s 60.6.
This area measured “how much student knowledge of reading and mathematics … changes from year to year,” giving positive points for students progressing toward higher levels of performance and negative points for student who decline below proficiency.
The report used the same testing scores from the achievement category to measure growth.
While the state standards for grading its statewide tests were changed before the 2012-13 schoolyear, making it impossible to compare to previous years, the report cards retroactively applied the new standards, and it showed little change from the 2011-12 scores.
There was again a wide range among the district’s schools in student growth scores. New Century again came out on top with a 90.4, and Glacier Edge had a 59.8.
The Closing Gaps category, which focused on showing “how the performance of student groups experiencing statewide gaps in achievement and graduation is improving in the district,” was a different story, with Verona scoring below the state.
VASD received a 65.8 rating, one point behind the state score of 66.8.
The district has had a problem with achievement gaps for years now, illustrated by the lower test scores from economically disadvantaged and minority students on average.
Behn said the district has recognized the shortfall and took further steps to address it throughout the 2012-13 school year.
“We made significant efforts last year, but you’re not going to see those efforts because the results were based on (tests) early in the school year,” she said. “Hopefully we will see some significant gains in that category next year.”
Gorrell noted the district’s extensive efforts over the past few years, including developing personalized learning, special training for teachers and working closely with DPI, among other things.
“That’s something we’re really focusing on and putting a lot of energy and effort in,” he said “We want to, at some point, see it start to move.”
At the individual school level, most scored below the state score for their grade levels, but Savanna Oaks bested the state by more than 10 points with a 75.1 and Glacier Edge came in just behind the state score of 65.6 with a 65.5.
The final category, on-track and postsecondary readiness, brought VASD back above the state’s score, with an 89.0 compared to 84.9 for the state.
This area measured the “success of students in the district in achieving educational milestones that predict postsecondary success,” including graduation and attendance rates, as well as ACT and other testing scores.
The lowest score in this category came from Country View, though it was still an 84.9. Badger Ridge, Savanna Oaks and Core Knowledge all scored over 91.
Even though the district exceeded expectations, Behn said, there is still a “ways to go” when it comes to some of the data.
She said the district is increasing the professional development it offers to staff members, changing its curricula and continuing to develop the Pre-K (4-year-old kindergarten) program, which Behn hopes will help students grow long-term.
“We don’t want to spend a lot of time on interventions (with struggling students); we want the curriculum to be helping all of our kids,” she said. “We want to get to that positive success before they even need interventions.”
Gorrell, meanwhile, called the reports helpful for seeing and measuring certain types of progress but said he puts more stock in annual site reports and other local measures. He said those get more “granular” than the overall report card’s focus on WKCE testing.
“It has limited use, because it measures the temperature of a school at a certain point based on a certain measure, the WKCE,” he said. “It really doesn’t help us with individuals, and that’s what we’re really focused on.”