The MacIver Institute recently published an article sharing the irony that so many of Wisconsin schools and school districts “met, exceeded, or significantly exceeded expectations,” according to the Department of Public Instruction, while only 27% of students are proficient in ELA and 27.5% are proficient in math. In other words, somehow most of our students are failing this important benchmark, yet the state believes the vast majority of schools and districts are doing a good job.
Here we take a deeper dive into the report cards and the data used to arrive at these curious and suspect grades from the Department of Public Instruction.
According to DPI, their report cards are calculated based on a formula taking into account the following metrics: achievement, growth, target group outcomes, and on-track to graduation. These report cards are given to public schools, choice schools, and school districts. See the screenshot below for how DPI defines each of these categories.
Each area is weighted differently by district and school (for example, some schools place a heavier emphasis on growth or achievement). It is unclear how DPI determines the weight assigned to different districts for their scores.
According to DPI, “The Closing Gaps priority area of the report card has been replaced by the Target Group Outcomes priority area to make the measure more reliable, inclusive, and actionable for schools and districts. Target Group Outcomes focuses students in roughly the bottom quartile (25%) of performance based on the prior year’s test results. This priority area is scored using a multiple measure system from other priority areas – achievement, value-added growth, chronic absenteeism, and attendance or graduation rates.” This change was apparently made without the opportunity for public or legislative input.
2020-2021 Report Card Scale. Source: Department of Public Instruction
Worst Schools in Wisconsin
All twenty of the districts receiving the lowest scores in the 2020-2021 report cards received a “fails to meet expectations” mark. A total of 73 Wisconsin schools and two Wisconsin school districts failed to meet expectations. 13 out of the 20 lowest-scoring schools are in the Milwaukee Public School District.
As the MacIver Institute pointed out in our original article on the district report cards, the grading scale used to evaluate districts and schools is unusually lax. It should also be noted that without any public notice or comment, DPI changed the grading scale this year and made the curve easier for a school to receive a passing grade. In the last report card, in order for a school district or school to qualify as having “Exceeds Expectations”, a minimum score of 73 was required. Now, the minimum score to reach exceeding expectations is 70, a full three points lower. The minimum score to reach the supposed satisfactory level, in traditional grading terms the “C” level, was reduced from 63 to 58.
Best Schools in Wisconsin
Conversely, all of Wisconsin’s top twenty scoring schools scored as exceeding expectations. A total of 324 schools and 39 Wisconsin school districts exceeded expectations in the 2020-2021 reporting period. Among the twenty best schools in the state, there appears to be no strong trend as it relates to district or location in the state.
All of this data is publicly available on DPI’s website.