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Community Corner: Schools, students and report cards
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There has been a lot of talk in the Wisconsin news lately about new school “report cards.”

We are all pretty familiar with the concept of students getting report cards and grades, but what about schools, teachers, and principals?

This fall, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will be taking the first steps in an overall new school accountability system. DPI will be releasing school report cards for individual schools that will provide descriptive information about school performance using multiple indicators.

These different indicators of performance will be combined into an overall score or grade that school districts across Wisconsin, including Platteville, will be making available to the public. You could go to a neighboring school district website and see its grade and know that the grades from district to district were based on the same scale and assessments.

This will be a big change for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have not been given an aggregate grade to sum up our overall school performance in the past. Secondly, the grading scale used to measure our student performance will be considerably higher.

I can best explain it by asking you to imagine that you have twins in the fourth grade, each in a different classroom. They take the same reading and math test and they get the exact same scores. Their score report comes back and one twin gets a C and the other twin gets a D. You just look at the grade and don’t notice that they got the exact same score. Perhaps you told the student who got the C that you want them to try harder next year and try for a B, but you got tutoring over the summer for the twin that got the D and they sat studying while the other twin got to have days off.

Now imagine at the end of the summer, you get a new score report and it tells you that the twin that got a C didn’t really deserve a C and now actually also has a D. You would probably be upset and wonder why the two classrooms didn’t have the same scale. You might even go to the principal and say that fourth-grade classrooms should be measuring the same things and using the same scales so you have a more accurate picture as to how your children are doing and how well the teacher is doing at meeting their needs.

That is kind of what happened in Wisconsin over the past year. States traditionally had different scales that they used to determine how well their students were doing. A student with the same score in Platteville and Dubuque might have gotten different results in terms of whether they were considered to be proficient.

Wisconsin students always scored well in comparison to the rest of the nation and will continue to score well; however, Wisconsin will be setting higher benchmarks in judging student performance to better demonstrate achievement. The new benchmarks will be based on those used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and will be comparable from state to state across the nation.

In the short term, this means that our overall grade will go down and it may look like we are suddenly doing worse. In reality, our student achievement has not changed; it is now measured differently. In the long term, it will improve our schools as we strive for a higher level of achievement for all of our students and the information we have more accurately measures their achievement.

Let’s go back to the twins in the two separate classrooms and pretend that the two classrooms were set up in a way that the one classroom had all the students that got Ds and Fs the previous year and the other class has all the students that got As and Bs. At the end of the year, the teacher in the one classroom brought all of his students up to Cs, and the teacher in the other classroom kept all of his students getting As and Bs.

Which classroom has the better teacher? In the past, just looking at grades, we might have said the teacher in the classroom with the A and B students was the better teacher and that might not have been true because we were not accounting for growth in individual students.

These new report cards will be including more than just the score on a test that students take. They will also include measures of student growth and how well districts are doing at closing gaps between student groups (i.e. low-income students, students with disabilities and members of racial or ethnic groups). They will include information on whether students are on track to graduate from high school and how well prepared they are for postsecondary education and employment, as well as attendance data.

Future changes down the road will be the creation of a new evaluation system for all public school teachers and principals. Districts will be required to implement principal and teacher evaluations that will include evaluation of practice for about 50 percent and actual student outcomes as the other 50 percent. In other words, they will be evaluated on how well their students actually achieve, not just on how well they are perceived to teach. Although the district grade will be available to the public, individual educator ratings are considered confidential and will not be available to the public.

In the end, what does all of this mean? I choose to think of it as a bit of a wake-up call for Wisconsin, our teachers, our students, and our families. We might not be doing as well as we thought we were when we really start comparing apples to apples. That’s OK, because it will provide us with an important opportunity to talk about our students in a way that gives all of us better information on how well our students are prepared to go on to that next stage in their educational journey.

The road map to get them there will be clearer.