The Columbus School District made its case that recent report cards released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction don’t present a complete picture of the district’s performance.

During the Nov. 27 school board meeting at city hall, Superintendent Annette Deuman said the district’s performance in recent years should be based on “way more than just scores.” The district received an overall grade of 69.1, “meeting expectations,” based on DPI’s criteria. Each school in the district was graded, with the Discovery Charter School earning the highest grade (82) and the elementary school the lowest (47).

While Columbus’ overall grade was about average, based on the state’s criteria, the district isn’t overly concerned. Becky Schmidt, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, said DPI’s grading system is very complicated and “doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.”

“It’s based on four priority areas, but they don’t exactly relate to all schools in the district,” Schmidt said. “Columbus report cards have five different set of rules applied. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.”

For instance, the state’s scale for student achievement is based on a three-year average, but two different exams were taken by students during that time, the Badger exam and the Forward exam.

“For student growth, the state only applies ACT scores, but there have been multiple years where that hasn’t been tracked,” Schmidt said.

In her presentation, Schmidt outlined a few key takeaways from the DPI assessment. She said the district doesn’t wait for the state’s report cards to be released before implementing programs. Starting this year, Columbus launched a three-year plan to focus on writing, reading and math skills. Columbus graded lower than the state average on English-language arts and math proficiency, but many schools in the state are faced with improving scores in those subjects.

Schmidt said a consultant from UW-Milwaukee conducted an equity audit on the district during the 2015-16 school year. Based on results from the audit, Columbus implemented a “universal design” basis for learning, which includes co-teaching methods in every school.

“We’re addressing the gap issues with learning head-on,” Schmidt said. “We’re looking at the data to continually improve and taking strategic steps to do so.”

The state’s grading system includes a five-star ranking method for every district and each school within a district. Columbus received three stars, overall. Deuman said it’s similar to how hotels are ranked on the internet.

“If you really want to know what’s going on in our district and how we’re doing, please call us,” Deuman said. “Don’t just look at the stars and numbers. We have teachers and students here who are doing great things.”

Board member Bill Braun questioned if parents looking to enroll their children in Columbus are really calling the district or just looking at DPI’s report cards to gauge the district’s performance. Deuman said Columbus gets calls “all the time” from interested parents.

Board member Mary Arnold said the report cards are “meant to judge districts against each other.” Fellow board member Julia Hoffman said the reports only give a small snapshot into a district’s performance and don’t consider other factors, such as a student’s home life.

“I’m not downplaying the state’s report cards,” Schmidt said. “But it’s just not the most useful tool.”

After Schmidt’s presentation, principals at each school presented their learning objectives for 2017-18 and beyond.

Track renovation update

Columbus may have to trim a few aspects of its track renovation project to come under budget.

Facilities Manager Troy Marshall and Janel DeZarn, Director of Business Services, provided an update to the board. Marshall said there have been a few revisions to original design plans to meet costs.

“We’re still hoping for a rubber track surface,” Marshall said.

DeZarn said finishing the work in phases would pay for the project in three fiscal years through the district’s operating budget.

“The main priority is maintaining the financial health of the district,” DeZarn said. “The district has a history of a lot of short-term borrowing that has increased our debt and hurt our credit rating.”

DeZarn said the district could complete the project in one fiscal year, but it won’t know if it will be able to until the track surface is removed. The cost of the original project was $249,500, but Columbus only has $210,000 available without incurring more debt.

Contact Kevin Damask at 608-963-7323 or on Twitter @kdamask