Glenn Bildsten (copy)

Baraboo High School Principal Glenn Bildsten addresses students during a school assembly on the first day of classes Sept. 1.

Baraboo School Board members questioned the efficacy of the state’s new report cards, despite the fact the district overall was ranked as “meets expectations.”

While Baraboo schools passed the test with an overall score of 66.8, or three out of five stars, district leaders expressed concern about some of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s grading criteria.

The report cards underwent major changes as part of Wisconsin Act 55, including the addition of variable weighting to address the impacts of poverty on student achievement, a new model for measuring student growth and a legislative requirement to drop the Badger Exam in favor of the Forward Exam.

The changes marked the third time standardized state testing was altered in three years.

During a presentation on the district’s report card performance at Monday’s school board meeting, board members raised concerns about inconsistent assessments, along with the effect test participation has on overall scores.

Districts and schools receive a score from zero to 100 on the report cards based on student test scores in language arts and mathematics, student growth, closing gaps between student subgroups and measures of readiness for graduation and post-secondary success.

Parents of students may allow their children to opt out of state testing, but if a school falls below a 95 percent participation rate for all students or any subgroup, it receives a five-point deduction from its overall score. Schools that fall below 85 percent participation for all students or any subgroup receive a 10-point deduction.

Student subgroups refer to a group of 20 or more students who share similar characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, language abilities, physical or learning disabilities.

“If you can’t get them to participate for whatever reason, and we’re held accountable for them not taking the test, it’s a pretty insignificant number of kids that can really sway the information,” said Board President Kevin Vodak.

“It is very easy to create a perception that our public schools are failing when they are not,” said Board member Peter Vedro. “That has to be addressed.”

District Administrator Lori Mueller said Baraboo schools reach out to parents to advise against opting out of state testing, but some continue to do so for “philosophical reasons.”

“We’ve been able to work it out where the student does take the assessment,” she said. “But it is completely up to the parent.”

Director of Teaching and Learning Nicholas Karls said participation was not a factor for the district this year.

The 2015-116 report cards are composed of multiple years of data, despite test changes. The scores are from one year of the Badger and Forward Exams for grades three through eight and the ACT Plus Writing in grade 11. The data also comes from a year of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

“Each of those tests were different in some ways, and the benchmarks were also different,” Karls said. “To try to glean from that how our students are doing over time is very difficult.”

However, Karls said if state assessment methods remain consistent over the next three years, he will be able to offer a more accurate analysis of Baraboo school performance.

This was the first year the report cards used a five-star rating system. The stars corresponded to one of five categories: “fails to meet expectations,” “meets few expectations,” “meets expectations,” “exceeds expectations” and “significantly exceeds expectations.” The Baraboo School District earned a three-star, 66.8 rating overall.

A number of schools within the district also received individual report cards. Each of the schools received “meets expectations” marks, while Al Behrman Elementary and Gordon L. Willson Elementary received ratings of “exceeds expectations.”

Mueller said she wants to see more measures – like AP courses and work certifications – included in the state report cards, as she said it is difficult to determine a school’s effectiveness based solely on test scores.

“The state report cards aren’t going to go away – there has to be some form of state and federal accountability,” she said. “There’s a lot of frustration with school districts being summarized with one score because the work that we do with kids can’t be summarized with one score.”

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter