A rural elementary school slated to be closed by the Portage Community School District came in second out of more than 2,000 schools rated in the state’s new accountability system.
Caledonia Elementary School ranked second in the state at 95.1 just behind Wauwatosa Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at 96, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. There were 2,118 schools that were ranked in the new accountability report cards.
The report cards rated public schools for the first time on a scale of 0 to 100 based on state test scores and other factors, such as graduation rates, attendance and progress on closing achievement gaps.
“We were really excited about it when the test scores came out and the parents were all very excited about it,” said Laurie Considine, lead teacher at Caledonia.
Pete Hibner, director of curriculum for the district, said he understands why residents may question the closing of Caledonia with the scores achieved.
“We said it’s a very difficult process and decision to make, and part of it is because the many positive aspects of those rural schools and this is an example,” he said. “The decision to close those two rural schools was a financial decision ... it was never about, ‘We’re going to close those schools because they’re not achieving.”
Caledonia is one of two rural schools, Fort Winnebago being the other, that district officials decided to close in 2013-2014 based on low student enrollment and financial straits.
“Yes, Caledonia has a particularly high score on this, and I don’t want to downplay it,” Hibner said.
District Administrator Charles Poches said the closing of rural schools remains a financial issue and a student numbers issue.
The overall rating is based on multiple measurements in several subcategories — student achievement and improvement on tests over three years, progress on closing achievement gaps and postsecondary readiness. Points are deducted if test participation, absenteeism or dropout rates are unsatisfactory.
DPI officials cautioned that while the rating system is standardized for all schools in the state, schools may have received the overall rating for different reasons. Schools also vary by student population, demographics and which grade levels it includes.
Overall, Portage officials said they are proud of — but not satisfied with — the report cards.
“As a school district, we’re pleased that all our schools meet, exceeded or significantly exceeded expectations, but by no means are we satisfied,” Hibner said. “We want to grow and improve and provide as much success to our students as we can. Ideally, we would get all our schools to significantly exceed expectations no matter how the state is testing them. That’s what the school district expects, and deserves, and that’s what the community and students expect and deserve.”
Some superintendents in the area sent home letters explaining the report cards and warning they include school test score results that are significantly lower than in the past. That’s because the state recently raised the bar for a satisfactory score on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, not because student performance changed.
Poches said he was “very proud” of the school district scores, but said it’s also a one-time snapshot of performance on one test.
“We have a very solid foundation. There are very hardworking professionals and support staff who are willing to go above and beyond for the kids. The WKCE is one measure, but we also have other measures, such as the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, so we have a good idea of where our students are at,” he said.
Each school receives an overall rating, but it will be comprised of separate ratings for student achievement, growth, closing achievement gaps and postsecondary readiness. Points can be deducted for high absentee or dropout rates or low test participation.
The overall ratings translate into five categories — significantly exceeds expectations, exceeds expectations, meets expectations, meets few expectations and fails to meet expectations.
School officials said they still have questions about how the rating system will work and whether it truly reflects a school’s performance, although they mostly agree it provides a more comprehensive picture than just using test scores.
“It’s good information, a work in progress. I know they’re going to look at it and revise it. The state will keep trying to put more information into the report card to get a clear picture,” Hibner said.
Pardeeville School District Administrator Gus Knitt said the report cards are a good starting point for the school officials and the public. For the last several years, the Pardeeville student population has ranked above the state average in the ACT test, Knitt said.
“The bottom line is make as many students successful in the Pardeeville School District as possible, and it gives us more data on what we’re doing well and what we need to work on,” he said.
School officials will appeal the rating of the high school to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, Knitt said. It received 68.8, meets expectations.
The way absentee students were counted in district vs. the DPI is in question, he said, and evidence suggests it warrant a higher rank.
“Our community has been very supportive. What’s nice about these report cards is it shows the success our students are having, so hopefully it will show our taxpayers that they’re getting a quality education with the money they’ve invested,” Knitt said.
Matthew DeFour of the Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this article.
The Department of Public Instruction developed a school rating system with input from the governor’s office, legislators and education officials. The ratings do not correspond with percentages, but some superintendents remain concerned the public will interpret them that way. The categories are:
• Significantly Exceeds Expectations: 83-100.
• Exceeds Expectations: 73-82.9.
• Meets Expectations: 63-72.9.
• Meets Few Expectations: 53-62.9.
• Fails to Meet Expectations: 0-52.9.
• Caledonia Elementary School: 95.1, significantly exceeds expectations.
• Endeavor Elementary School: 68.5, meets expectations.
• Fort Winnebago Elementary School: 74.1, exceeds expectations.
• Lewiston Elementary School: 74.2, exceeds expectations.
• John Muir Elementary School: 70.8, meets expectations.
• Rusch Elementary School: 69.5, meets expectations.
• Woodridge Primary School: N/A
• Wayne Bartels Middle School: 63.1, meets expectations.
• Portage Academy of Achievement: N/A
• Portage High School: 68.9, meets expectations.
• River Crossing Charter School: N/A
• Pardeeville Elementary School: 73.3, exceeds expectations.
• Pardeeville Middle School: 72.5, meets expectations.
• Pardeeville High School: 68.8, meets expectations.
• Lodi Elementary School: 72.6, meets expectations.
• Lodi Primary School: 70.8, meets expectations.
• Lodi Middle School: 76.9, exceeds expectations.
• Gibraltar Charter School: N/A.
• Lodi High School: 76.5, exceeds expectations.
• Forest Lane Community School: 66.2, meets expectations.
• Montello Junior/Senior High School: 61.8, meets few expectations.
• High Marq Environmental Charter School: N/A
• Coloma Elementary School: 75.6, exceeds expectations.
• Oxford Elementary School: 70.2, meets expectations.
• Westfield Elementary School: 71.6, meets expectations.
• Westfield Area Middle School: 61.7, meets few expectations.
• Westfield Area High School: 65.9, meets expectations.
• Poynette Elementary School: 73.1, exceeds expectations.
• Poynette Middle School: 71.5, meets expectations.
• Poynette High School: 66.6, meets expectations.
• Rio Elementary School: 70.1, meets expectations.
•Rio Middle–High School: 64.4, meets expectations.
• Cambria-Friesland Elementary School: 75.2, exceeds expectations.
• Cambria-Friesland Middle-High School: 72.3, meet expectations.
For more information about the state report cards, visit www.dpi.state.wi.us.