As the Department of Public Instruction released its report cards Tuesday, the good news statewide was that 87 percent of public schools’ scores either met or exceeded expectations, as did 96 percent of the state’s 421 public school districts.

For Waunakee school district administrators, the news was even better.

The Waunakee district’s score, at 85, fell into the highest rating, described as “significantly exceeds expectations,” as did the scores for five of the six Waunakee schools. It was the only district in Dane County to receive the five-star rating.

The five-star rating is applied to schools and districts earning scores between 83 and 100; Middleton-Cross Plains Area district, with a score of 82.6, was just four-tenths of a point shy of it.

Waunakee was one of only 40 of the 421 districts across the state to receive the highest accountability rating, according to a Department of Public Instruction release.

The only Waunakee school receiving a four-star rating, described as “exceeds expectations,” was Waunakee Middle School, which received a score of 82.1. But as the Waunakee district’s director of curriculum, Tim Schell, noted, it still was in the upper end of that spectrum.

“Every one of our schools was 82.1 or better, which is outstanding. We had no low-performing schools,” Schell said.

The report card rates four priority areas – student achievement, student growth, closing gaps and on-track postsecondary readiness – weighing each area depending on the schools themselves. Data from statewide assessment exams are used to measure school growth, but at the elementary schools, only two of the four grades take those exams.

Because Arboretum Elementary School has few minority, low income, English Language Learner students or students with disabilities, the scores do not factor in closing gaps because no data is available for the two grades.

Schell noted that statewide, the closing gap area is a lower scoring category. But, he said, the message the scoring category is meant to send is important, as Wisconsin continues to have the largest achievement gap in the nation.

“The message it’s trying to send the school and public is an extremely important message,” Schell said, adding that recognizing districts that are closing those gaps is important.

But for very small districts in the state, the size of one of Waunakee’s elementary schools, the data is more volatile, Schell said.

High school data

One major change to the test this year came at the high-school level, as the DPI began to include results from the Aspire test given to high school freshmen and sophomores to measure school growth. In the past, only 11th graders’ ACT scores were used to measure achievement, but with only one grade, it could not measure the growth.

“They were very prudent and cautious in testing their methodology before they made [the change],” Schell said about the DPI, “but it was time and they were ready.”

For schools across the state, the change resulted in more students being tested and greater measurement of growth.

“What that meant was for student achievement, instead of it being just your juniors, it’s your 9th, 10th and 11th graders. So for us, that moved our students tested from just 300 to close to 900,” Schell said.

In the past, Waunakee High School had not had a growth score. Schell said educators were interested to see the outcome.

“It would allow us to change the closing gaps conversation, and it also would give us a growth score,” he said.

The growth score at Waunakee High School was 77.4, higher than the state average of 66.

The closing gap score rose from 55.6 to 65.8. Schell said the area that was bringing the score down actually improved. The score’s weight decreased from 40 percent to 26.7 percent. The combination of the score increase for this priority area and the decrease in its weighting made for a much reduced drag on the total score, Schell said.

“It’s not because anything different was happening in our high school; it’s just because the curtain got pulled back on that,” Schell noted.

High schools throughout Dane County saw similar results.

“It shows the academic quality of a lot of high schools in Dane County,” Schell said, all due to the addition of the Aspire scores in the equation.

Overall, the report cards were an affirmation. Schell said he had some concerns about the ACT scores in the fall, but the with DPI report cards, he said, “I don’t have anything I can really wring my hands over. It’s just too good.

“The reason they’re good is because our people work hard and so do our kids and the families behind them,” Schell added.

The staff in all areas of the school – teachers, paraeducators, those in food service, custodial, bus drivers and administrators – do their part, and families send their kids to school prepared to learn, Schell said.

Still a focus for the district is closing gaps. Schell said the district is focusing on professional development in equity and inclusion.

“Part of it is that all kids feel invited, welcome in their school and in their classroom,” Schell said.

Several workshops have been held and experts invited to talk to educators. Each of the departments have also included equity and closing gaps in their goals.

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