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The Portage Community School District met expectations in state report cards released Monday, improving its overall score from last year.

Noah Vernau, Daily Register

The Portage Community School District met expectations in state report cards released Monday, improving its overall score from last year.

Portage received an overall score of 66.2, which is up from 62.3 last year when it fit into the category of “meets few expectations.”

“We’re glad we’ve improved our score, and our goal is to continue improving,” Curriculum Director Peter Hibner said. “Meeting expectations is not our goal.”

The state’s Department of Public Instruction determines scores for school districts based on four areas:

  • Student achievement (using state assessments);
  • Student growth (improvement in scores from one year to the next);
  • Closing the achievement gaps for various subgroups (how a district’s economically disadvantaged students compare to its students who do not live in poverty); and
  • Post-secondary readiness, which factors things like graduation and attendance rates.

The assessments used to determine scores include last year’s Forward Exam for students in grades third through eighth — using only the English language arts and math results — and the ACT test scores of high school juniors, Hibner explained. To calculate growth and other factors, the state uses scores from the 2015-16 Forward Exam as well as the Badger Exam that the state had used in 2014-15.

Portage improved its overall score thanks to modest improvements made in English language arts testing and closing achievement gaps, Hibner said. More substantial gains were made in the district’s overall student growth.

Endeavor score dips

The only school in the district that did not meet or exceed expectations was Endeavor Elementary, finishing in the category of “fails to meet expectations” with a score of 51.9, down from its score of 63.9 last year. But scores for schools like Endeavor are susceptible to “tremendous swings” from year to year due to their small student populations, Hibner said.

Testing data in Endeavor involved 40 students across grades 3-5, more than half of them considered economically disadvantaged — a subgroup that is weighted heavily in comparison to the other students and which did not score as well as the year prior.

Hibner noted that Endeavor met or exceeded expectations in the previous four state report cards.

“It can be tricky to understand (state scores) when you’re talking about small schools,” Hibner said. “For Endeavor, they actually have the highest achievement score of any school (in Portage),” but Endeavor scored low because of its size and the impact the subgroup had.

Looking ahead

Portage will aim to exceed expectations in state report cards within three years by working to improve testing conditions for students — motivating and better preparing them for state testing, the questions for which do not always coincide with their curriculum — and further developing their test-taking skills, Hibner said.

“That’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said, since the state does not provide analysis of test results. Administrators receive only the overall scores.

“So in math, were our scores low in geometry? Were they in statistics? We don’t receive that information,” District Administrator Charles Poches said.

Poches and Hibner emphasized that state scores represent one way — and not the best way — to measure success of students and schools.

“I don’t want to minimize the importance (of state testing),” Hibner said, “but it’s important for people to put this in perspective. The most important (assessment) is monitoring the child throughout the year,” involving teachers in the classroom and the many other assessments school districts employ throughout the school year, like STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting).

“It’s a lot of testing in a short period of time, all done on a computer.”

State testing generally occurs between late March and early May, and Portage typically aims to complete its state testing in a one- to two-week window.

State testing is lengthy, Hibner said, including about 7 hours of total testing for the fourth-grade classes alone.

As the district works to exceed expectations in state testing within three years, the hope is that Portage will simultaneously show improvements in its own assessments.

"We're always looking at the skills students will need for the next grade level," Hibner said. "We need to be aware of readiness the whole way through.

"It will take everyone to be successful."

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter