Dane County schools get mostly passing grades, but attendance remains a concern

November 14, 2018

For another year, all 16 Dane County school districts — and all but two schools — met or exceeded expectations last year, earning at least three stars on state report cards.

Just over half of the county’s schools scored better than the overall state average, according to data released to the public Tuesday by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

As it did last year, Waunakee boasted the top score in the county and was the lone district to earn a five-star rating, meaning it significantly exceeds expectations and is among the top 12 percent of districts statewide.

Ten other districts earned four-star ratings, while Cambridge, Madison, Marshall, Stoughton and Verona received three for meeting expectations.

Overall, 83.7 percent of Wisconsin’s rated schools and 96.4 percent of districts met or exceeded expectations in 2017-18, both up slightly from the previous year. Just over half of all individual public and private schools exceeded expectations, while about 4.5 percent were failing.

The DeForest School District posted the largest gains in the county, moving up 4.3 points into the four-star category.

Five other districts improved, including the Madison School District, which was up 1.5 points to 66.5, squarely within the three-star range.

In a statement, Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said the district is moving in the right direction.

“The vast majority of our schools meet, exceed or significantly exceed expectations and have also improved from last year,” she said. “In addition to the data we track in real time, the state report cards offer us the opportunity to reflect, calibrate with other data points that we use as a district and celebrate our progress.”

Andrew Statz, director of accountability, said the district is doing well in relation to the state on closing graduation and achievement gaps for racial minorities and students in poverty. The district also faces the same attendance problems dogging schools statewide.

“There are always more gains to be made,” he said. “We’ve got some work ahead of us.”

Madison West High School was among the roughly 36 percent of schools to earn a four-star rating, improving 1 point from last year to 76.9 based on improvements in student readiness and closing racial and economic achievement gaps.

“We went up in the right areas,” said principal Karen Boran.

Eight districts in the county posted lower scores than the previous year.

Marshall, which last year was just 0.2 points short of a four-star rating, dropped 5.9 points, the largest decrease in the county.

Middleton’s Clark Street Community School and the Wisconsin Virtual Academy high school, a charter hosted by the McFarland School District, were the only two schools in the county with failing grades.

Ten schools, including Madison’s East and La Follette high schools, were in the two-star category for schools that “meet few expectations.” Both were docked points for low attendance.

Four Madison elementary schools — Allis, Sandburg, Sherman and Lake View — were also two-star schools.

Statewide, more than 60 percent of the state’s 422 public school districts exceeded expectations. Only 14 districts met few expectations — earning just two stars — and none were considered failing.

Laura Pinsonneault, director of DPI’s Office of Educational Accountability, said the overall scores show improvement, though absenteeism reached a new high.

“There’s some room for improvement across the state,” said department spokesman Tom McCarthy. “In order to learn, you need to be in school.”

Pinsonneault also noted that schools with more students in poverty tend to score lower.

“We would like to buck that trend … but it is the reality we face now,” she said.

Schools and districts receive a score of 1 to 100 based on student reading and math scores and growth in those scores on standardized tests the previous spring, closing of achievement gaps between student subgroups, and certain measures of post-secondary readiness, including graduation and attendance rates.

Points are deducted for missing targets that measure student engagement. For example, absenteeism must be less than 13 percent and dropout rates must be less than 6 percent.

Those numeric scores are then lumped into five groups to correspond with star ratings.

DPI did not offer analysis on what drove the improvement, though McCarthy said after three years with the current metrics school administrators are getting better at hitting the targets.

“The longer we hold stable on report cards the more people understand what we’re measuring and valuing,” McCarthy said. “And the more they work their systems toward those measures and values.”

“In order to learn you need to be in school.” —Tom McCarthy, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on statewide problems with attendance

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