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Thursday, December 9th, 2021
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MADISON — It’s amazing. Less than a third of Wisconsin’s K-12 students are considered proficient in reading, writing and math, but 87 percent of schools in the Badger State are meeting or exceeding expectations, according to the Department of Public Instruction’s latest report cards.

Makes you wonder about educrats’ idea of “expectations.”

It’s a lie, and a bad one at that, says state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) chairman of the Assembly Committee on Education.

“Wisconsin State Superintendent Jill Underly and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have manipulated the 2020-21 District and School Report Card data in ways that mislead the public. Wisconsin parents and taxpayers deserve better,” he said.

DPI’s annual report, back again after a year off, shows 399 of 421 Wisconsin school districts (94.8 percent) met, exceeded or significantly exceeded expectations. And 1,781 out of 2,038 public and school choice schools (87.4 percent) met or exceeded expectations.

The rosy picture is head-scratching, particularly because last school year was considered by many to be the “lost year in education” amid the crush of the pandemic. With so many students locked out of classrooms and trapped in failed virtual learning systems, reports everywhere showed students falling behind.

The glowing report cards even had DPI defender, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, asking how such miraculous achievement occurred.

“Officials with the state Department of Public Instruction changed several metrics on the report cards this year and moved the goalposts such that the same fraction of schools qualified as meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to the last assessment,” the newspaper reported.

As Thiesfeldt noted, DPI altered four of the five Accountability Ratings Categories to make it easier for schools to receive a higher rating. The new Report Cards also eliminated the deductions for high rates of absenteeism, a major problem during last year’s virtual learning environment.

DPI officials didn’t want to produce the report cards, which are supposed to give the public a way to track their schools’ progress, because they were worried about the pandemic’s impact. The Legislature told the agency to get it done.

As the newspaper noted, department officials did not take questions on a press call and declined the Journal Sentinel’s interview request.

Jim Bender, government affairs consultant for School Choice Wisconsin, said he asked DPI multiple times to explain its grading process. He’s still waiting for answers.

DPI noted 439 schools did not have enough data to be included on the reports. More so, there’s a huge gap in academic achievement reporting.

“How do you issue a report card on Milwaukee Public Schools when less than half of the kids took the test?” Bender asked.

Curiously, MPS scored 58.1 out of 100, down slightly from 2019. In most classes, that would be considered a failing grade. Not in DPI Land, where Milwaukee Public Schools is considered to be meeting expectations. In 2019, with a slightly better grade, MPS was given a “meets few expectations” mark.

So what gives?

Bender put it bluntly: You can’t trust the data.

“We have always been an organization that is a stickler on quality data. As you can see, we didn’t release anything on the results of this year’s report card yet because in so many places so few kids took the test,” he said. “The data isn’t up to what we consider our standards of quality.”

Thiesfeldt said DPI is in CYA formation.

“The Department would demonstrate true leadership of our public schools by being focused on teaching children how to read using science and evidence-based methods, instead of massaging data to convince parents that they are doing effective work,” the lawmaker said.

Thiesfeldt compared DPI’s manipulations to scoring a touchdown at the 20 yard line and calling it the end zone.

“It is a clear attempt to manipulate media reporting on the Report Cards to help insulate DPI, school administrators, and school boards from accountability for poor decisions and performance during 2020,” he said. “Superintendent Underly is creating a mirage with the data. This action seeks to hide from parents the impact of the poor decisions made in schools across Wisconsin during 2020. Students are best served when parents are told the truth.”

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