Wisconsin has been labeled one of the worst in the nation for closing the achievement gap. And, according to Sauk Prairie High School principal Chad Harnisch, Sauk Prairie High School is behind the state.

What’s more, according to Harnisch, Sauk Prairie High School’s Hispanic and economically-disadvantaged student population perform in the bottom one-third of the Badger Conference.

Harnisch told this news to members of the school board during a board meeting Nov. 27 at the high school.

“In the nation, Wisconsin is one of the worst if not the worst in terms of closing gaps, and we, right now, are underperforming the state,” Harnisch said. “We are closing gaps slower than the state average of closing gaps, and that’s something we have to address. That particular bullet point does not make me feel good as the leader of the high school and it’s something we have to address in the district.”

Achievement gaps found in standardized testing are also found in the district’s grading practices.

“It bears out not just in standardized testing,” Harnisch said. “If you look at our grading you can see that gap also exists in the rate of which students earn As for example. Minority males earn an A at a lower rate than non-minority females. You see that gender and racial gap in a few of our grading practices.”

Harnisch said high school administration is focusing on three areas this year: completing the transition into the trimester schedule, closing the achievement gap and looking into grading reform strategies.

To accomplish this, Harnisch said three administrators will be attending a conference called “Leading for Equity,” in addition to focusing on equity during professional development days, and devising a multi-year plan to close the achievement gap.

In an effort to tackle grading reform, high school staff will begin a review of current practices and research-based practices during the next year.

“We’re going to start having conversations about grading reform and talking about how do we assign grades and how do we have students demonstrate learning to us and how do we report that learning to parents, colleges and students,” Harnisch said.

School board member Richard Judge asked what was the genesis to grading inequity.

“Is there a concern we are grading too easy, or grades aren’t relevant across same subjects?” Judge said.

Harnisch said in the past decade there was an effort to bring consistency to grading at the high school.

“I think there’s been a little bit of drift and partly, what my leadership style I’m a little more open to divergent thinking and difference in thinking among faculty,” Harnisch said. “We want to have a commonality about what we are trying to accomplish with grading, and that’s a conversation teachers need to have every now and then to say, what is the purpose of giving grades and are we meeting that purpose?”

Harnisch said best practices in grading require the district to discuss what’s included in a grade, such as what information is the grade communicating, whether or not there’s non-learning factors like behavior or attendance factored into the grade.

“How do we communicate that and if there are, and we want it that way, let’s be clear about that and communicate that to people,” Harnisch said. “So really it’s just about making sure there’s clarity of purpose and clarity of result.”

The news was not all negative. Harnisch said for the third consecutive year, 100 percent of the junior class took the ACT and increased their composite score from 20.8 in 2015 to 21.3 in 2017. Also compared to the Badger Conference, Sauk Prairie High School students are in the upper one-third of those 15 districts in the conference. And, after four years of increases, Sauk Prairie High School had 33 AP Scholars — the second highest on record since data was collected.

In other news:

Sauk Prairie FFA advisor Troy Talford and five of the school’s FFA officers provided a history of agriculture education in schools due to the centennial of agriculture in education. Talford said Prairie du Sac High School implemented agriculture education into its curriculum in 1916, with Sauk Prairie High School later following suit. Talford said the middle school started agriculture education program in 2003.

Talford also discussed the importance of the Smith Hughes Act, enacted in 1917, which provided federal aid to states to promote precollegiate vocational education in agricultural and industrial trades and in home economics.

“Things have definitely changed over the course of time,” Talford said. “If you go back prior to 1969, I would have only been teaching male students. It was the boys job to run the farm and it was the girls job to cook the meals, clean the house and be ready for us when we came home.”

“Now we actually have more females taking on those leadership roles and responsibilities,” Talford said. “And they are giving the boys a run for their money a little bit.”

Follow Autumn Luedke on Twitter @Apwriter1 or contact at (608) 393-5777

Reporter, Sauk Prairie Eagle