As Wisconsin plows full steam into a new system for measuring the quality of its public schools, state officials are releasing individual report cards for each school Monday that are sure to encourage and dismay the public, as well as confuse and enlighten them.
Based predominantly on different ways of looking at state achievement test data, most recently from November 2011, the report cards also reflect the raised bar for proficiency the state has adopted to be in line with a respected national exam. That means that just about every school in the state will, starting Monday, suddenly have a lot more students looking a whole lot less accomplished in reading and math than in previous years.
The adjusted standards and the report cards showcasing different aspects of school performance are on the fast track because Wisconsin this year received a waiver from the most onerous mandates of an unpopular federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. In exchange, Wisconsin had to roll out its own system of measuring schools.
And it had to do it quickly.
Most school districts have had only a few weeks to privately analyze the data in their new report cards, and reactions generally point toward this being a better measurement of school performance than what existed under the No Child law. That's because the law focused almost exclusively on what percentage of children at each assessed grade level were proficient and advanced in reading and math, and it set up an expectation widely viewed as unreasonable that all students would be proficient by 2014.
"We're saying it's about time that something is counted for each school beyond this (Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination) point-in-time test score," said Tony Brazouski, director of academic achievement for the Whitnall School District.
Brazouski said his district is treating the report cards as a practice run that helps them understand where to focus their energy.
But for others, answering the cry for multiple measures of performance has resulted in a be-careful-what-you-ask-for scenario: Many district leaders feel the new report cards paint a muddier picture than before.
Formulas for calculating schools' scores are as complicated as tax forms, and the overall composite score for each school is not supposed to be taken as a "grade," yet it's a number out of 100 that's tempting to convert into a percent -- and a corresponding letter grade.
Todd Gray, superintendent of the Waukesha School District, said he would have preferred a full year to get used to what the state was going to record and home in on before the new system went public.
"The state has used information that we haven't really had a chance to work with in this format and then putting out these very public grades," Gray said. "You can have a school performing well in many areas, and it could have an attendance problem, and it could put them in the category of not meeting any needs."
Others caution against putting too much stock in the report cards until they're aligned with the state's new standardized test, set to be adopted by all schools in 2014-'15. Until then, the data still is pulled mostly from the WKCE, which many regard as a flawed exam.
"The transition process will be confusing for families," Patricia Greco, superintendent of the Menomonee Falls School District, wrote in a letter to parents being released Monday.
Across the state, other district leaders have been preparing their own communications to parents to explain the complexities of the new measurements, and how the new standards reflect higher expectations, not a sudden drop in the intelligence of area children.
Specifically, the new report cards prioritize four elements of a school: overall achievement in reading and math; growth in state test achievement scores over time; how much the achievement gap is closing between student subgroups and their traditionally higher-performing white peers; and readiness indicators for being on track to graduate and pursue postsecondary training or college.
In another section, schools can lose points if they don't test at least 95% of their students, and if they have high student absenteeism or a high dropout rate.
Through various weighted formulas, the calculations result in an overall composite score out of 100 listed at the top left of a school's report card. An accompanying chart indicates whether the school significantly exceeds expectations (83 to 100 points), exceeds expectations (73 to 82.9 points), meets expectations (63 to 72.9), meets few expectations (53 to 62.9) or fails to meet expectations (0 to 52.9).
The report cards are scheduled to be posted publicly on the Department of Public Instruction's website by 8 a.m. Monday. Most districts also are emailing or mailing parents the new data and/or posting it to their district websites.
(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel