The vast majority of Wisconsin’s public schools meet or exceed expectations, according to preliminary report cards made public by the state Department of Public Instruction this week, but Lakeland Union High School is not among them, ranking in the bottom 14.1 percent of the state’s rated schools.
With an overall accountability score of 59.8, Lakeland was one of just 190 schools, out of 1,877 rated, to be ranked in the state’s second worst category, ‘Meets Few Expectations.’ Seventy-six other schools lagged behind in the worst category, ‘Failed to Meet Expectations.’
Of 2,118 total schools, 68 received an accountability index rating of significantly exceeding expectations; 637 schools exceeded expectations; and 906 schools met expectations. About 11 percent of schools, or 241, were not rated because they were new schools or alternative schools that were too small or lacked sufficient assessment data.
The report cards are meant to provide balanced, descriptive information about school performance using multiple measures of student achievement, the DPI stated.
“The 2011-12 preliminary school report cards are a starting point for using multiple measures to evaluate our schools,” state superintendent Tony Evers said. “... These preliminary report cards provide valuable information for parents and educators as a foundation for helping all of our schools improve and I encourage looking beyond the score or rating. Whereas, the majority of schools meet or exceed expectations, detailed report cards provide data that will help them get even better.”
As the DPI explains it, the report cards provide an accountability score on a scale of zero to 100. This year, 85.8 percent of rated schools met or exceeded expectations, which means they scored at least 63.
Overall accountability scores are weighted in a formula that factors priority areas of achievement along with student engagement indicators. Those indicators are test participation rates, absenteeism, and dropout rates.
The priority areas measured for LUHS were student achievement in reading and mathematics; closing gaps for reading and mathematics achievement and for graduation, based on the performance of specific student groups (English-language learners, low-income students, students with disabilities, and students from racial or ethnic groups and their peers); and on-track and postsecondary readiness, which uses graduation rates and ACT participation and performance as predictors of college and career readiness.
The LUHS details
Breaking down the scores for LUHS, the high school ranked behind the state average in two of the three priority areas, that of student achievement in mathematics and reading, and in closing achievement gaps among groups of students. LUHS performed better than the state average in on-track and post-secondary readiness.
But where the school really suffered in its scoring was in student engagement indicators. The school missed both the state’s 95 percent participation goal in the Wisconsin Student Assessment System and the state’s absentee rate goals of an absentee rate of less than 13 percent. LUHS did meet dropout rate goals.
There were some bright spots. The school once again scored higher than the state average in ACT test results, significantly closed its graduation rate gaps among some student groups, and continued to post overall strong graduation rates.
On Wednesday, LUHS principal James Bouché said the school is working on the weak areas but he wanted to highlight the positives as well.
“I’m a glass is half-full guy,” Bouché said. “We need to recognize what good we are doing and look at the positives, while working in those areas where we need to get better. We look at this as a bump in the road.”
Specifically, the school fell significantly short of the state average in reading and math student achievement, scoring 61.3 overall compared to the state average of 66.5 (a word of caution, these scores are point-based, that is, they are not based on a 0 to 100-percent metric – 61.3 does not equal 61.3 percent, in other words).
The difference was greatest in reading (28.7; 32 statewide), while math was 32.6 (34.5 statewide).
In the category of “closing achievement gaps” among student subgroups, the school was only slightly behind the state average, rating 67.8 compared to a statewide average of 68.3. LUHS lagged significantly behind in reducing mathematics achievement gaps (13.2; 16.8 state) and in reducing reading achievement gaps (15.8; 17.5 state), but made up ground by performing higher than the state in closing graduation gaps (38.8; 34 state).
In reading for example, American Indian students lost ground slightly in 2011-12 (based on a three-year average of students) from the year before compared to white students; economically disadvantaged students gained slightly compared to non-economically disadvantaged students, but remained significantly behind. In math, the gap between Indian and white students widened significantly by three points; the gap between economic groups was reduced.
But in closing graduation gaps among student groups, LUHS shined, at least in closing the gap between Indian and white students. While graduation rate gaps remained about the same for economic groups, and increased for students with disabilities from 11.6 percent to 14 percent behind students without disabilities, the gap between Indian graduation rates and white graduation rates narrowed dramatically. The Indian population’s rates lagged by 48.7 percent in 2009-10, but by only 28.2 percent in 2010-11.
A marked increase in Indian graduation rates from 42.9 percent to 69.6 percent accounted for the change.
Graduation rates, along with ACT scores, helped boost the school above the state average in On-Track and Postsecondary Readiness, scoring 85.7 to 82.3.
In 2010-11, the school scored a four-year graduation rate of 90.9 percent, with a white graduation rate of 97.8 percent.
LUHS curriculum and instruction director Faye DeMarte, while saying she was disappointed with the overall report card, nonetheless said the school had worked hard to boost graduation rates, both overall and among various constituencies.
“We intentionally targeted graduation rates, and there are many pieces to that effort, and it has paid off,” DeMarte said.
Both DeMarte and Bouché pointed to such programs as GED Option 2, programs available for students who are not successful in the traditional education setting, as well as learning labs instead of study halls, and the introduction of “academies,” or schools within schools with generally smaller student participation and more structured settings for freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
But where LUHS really missed the mark was in the area of student engagement. High absenteeism, as well as lower than adequate test participation rates in both Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations and Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities, caused the school’s final score to suffer five-point deductions in each category.
For example, the state expects a 95-percent test participation rate, which the school missed.
“We’re not happy about the test participation rates,” DeMarte said. “We need the community to understand that they need to be there. We need to have support for that to happen. We need the community to understand that for our school score we need every student taking the test.”
However, at the tenth-grade level, DeMarte pointed out, the law gives parents the right to opt their children out of testing.
“It’s counterintuitive that the law gives parents the right to opt out and then penalizes the school when they do,” she said. “We need to afford them that opportunity, while communicating the importance.”
Actually, in the aggregate the school met the 95-percent participation rate, but to avoid the report card deduction the state requires every student population subgroup to also meet it, and that did not happen.
Absenteeism was an even greater problem. The state scoring goal is to keep absenteeism to less than 13 percent (those who are absent at least 16 percent of the time), and LUHS was nowhere in the neighborhood, DeMarte said. In fact, she said, about one-fourth of the student population missed at least 28 days of school.
“Absenteeism is another piece that we have not gotten to yet,” DeMarte said. “We did not meet the goal by a large margin. It’s (the LUHS district) a big geographic area, but we need to have every child here. We can’t afford not to have them in school. Our rate was much greater than 13 percent. We need to have parents and the larger community and everybody help us get students to school.”
Bouché said the absentee rate is a major focus of the administration.
“We have focused laser-like on absenteeism,” he said. “We are working with families, and the Lac du Flambeau tribe and with both Oneida County and Vilas County truancy. This is important, because when our students are here, they are successful.”
Bouché reiterated that he viewed the report card as a glass half-full.
“We will use this as a baseline and move forward,” he said.
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.