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Report cards: Schools have have room to improve



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THIS GRAPHIC SHOWS a with 25 students class at Big Foot. Students can be in more than one subgroup. Subgroups include economically disadvantaged and disabilities.

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This Graphic shows the breakdown of a class of 25 students. Students can be in more than one subgroup, which means a student can be economically disadvantaged and have a disability. The school is looking to close performance gaps between students in the subgroups and their peers. (click for larger version)
October 30, 2012 | 04:29 PM
State report cards show that schools within the Big Foot Area Schools Association are all meeting expectations, but they also show room for improvement.

Students from four elementary schools, Fontana, Reek, Sharon and Walworth, attend Big Foot High School.

Overall accountability scores for the four schools varied.

Reek Elementary School has an overall score of 80.3, Sharon is 71.2, Fontana is 69.3 and Walworth is 68. All scores are out of 100.

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According to the Department of Public Instruction website, overall scores are calculated differently for each school.

A parent can't look at the main score to know the whole story.

Big Foot High School District Administrator Dorothy Kaufmann said the variance in scores is not new.

"We've been dealing with students from the four elementary schools," she said. "We know where they're coming from, and we've created programs to meet students where they are. We prepare for students from all the schools."

Kaufmann said the school tries to individualize education for the students, whether they have special needs or need accelerated learning.

"We work with a range of students to move them forward," she said.

Behind the score

Sara Norton, district administrator at Fontana Elementary School, said it's important to look past the overall score on the top of the report card.

"Our score (69.3) shows that we meet expectations," she said. "But when you look further, you see that we're not doing so well in reading."

The overall score for each school prioritizes student achievement, growth and gap closure, but it adds the average of those with other scores.

An overall score is based on various factors at each school.

The report cards produced by the state don't show specific goals for each school.

While the goal of Big Foot is to close gaps between minority groups and nonminority students, the report doesn't explicitly state an acceptable gap.

"(The report card) recognizes the importance of having all students improve, while focusing on the need to close gaps by lifting lower-performing group," the website states.

Some of the sections in the report card have goals attached. Dropout rates are expected to be less than 6 percent, and test participation should be 95 percent of students. Norton said the district has focused on math for the past seven years, which shows in the math achievement scores.

"We're pretty strong in math," she said. "We're using the same language and spiraling back to the same skills as we teach math. We need to look at what we're doing in reading. We are already focusing on differentiating our curriculum in reading."

The curriculum, Norton said, places an emphasis on teaching students based on education level, not just grade in school. "For the state as a whole, we're going to a new assessment in two years," Norton said. "It's called the Smarter Balanced Assessment. They're going to be looking for a very different set of skills than we've been teaching them for in the past. It changes the way we teach kids from specific knowledge to being able to read, analyze, extend and apply." Smarter Balanced, according to the assessment program website, is creating "next-generation assessments" to match common core standards. The student assessments will be in place for the 2014-15 school year.

Impact of report cards

"I didn't know what was coming," Norton said. "It's so technical. If it was just based on the (state standardized test) scores, I think we would have done a better job at predicting the scores."

The report cards use the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results based on national standardized test scores. A student who reads in the proficient category on the Wisconsin test may score differently on the national test because of the way the tests are scored.

According to the DPI website, WKCE scores have different standards for basic, proficient and advanced levels. For example, a 70 is proficient on state tests but basic on the national exam. The national standards have an additional level below basic. Norton said the main focus of the report cards is not to show how students are achieving.

"It was based more on the student gaps and closing those gaps," Norton said.

A large part of the report cards target achievement gaps between minority students and nonminority students. Minority groups include ethnic groups and also subgroups of students with disabilities, economic disadvantages and limited English proficiency.

"Because of the size of our school, we don't necessarily have identifiable subgroups," Norton said. "The smaller your subgroup population is the more difficult it is to show the growth (in that group). In a very small subgroup, if two out of 20 kids don't improve, it's a much higher percent than if four out of 60 students don't improve." The gap in math between economically disadvantaged students and their peers has decreased by less than one point at Fontana, Walworth and Big Foot. Federal funds are available for schools with high populations of economically disadvantaged students.

"Economically disadvantaged students are targeted with Title I funds," Norton said. "These federal funds support a reading and math interventionist in our school."

Walworth, with more than 50 percent of its student population economically disadvantaged, faces different challenges than many of the other schools. Walworth Elementary District Administrator Pam Knorr said she was satisfied with the report given the school's demographics.

"Given our poverty rate, our English Language Learning population and our special education students, I think we did quite well," she said.

Title I

Big Foot was designated a Title I Focus school with the goal of improving the gaps between subgroups in math and graduation rates. The designation is new for this academic year, and though the school had reduced the gap in math based on economic standing, other gaps have also increased.

Those students who have limited English and a disability perform at significantly lower levels than those not in those groups. In reading, the gap between students in that group compared to students not in the group has increased 1.4 points since the 2010-11 school year.

In math, the gap has grown 2.1 points in the same time. Graduation rates show a similar trend: nearly 61 percent of students with limited English and a disability graduated in 2011. Nearly 99 percent of students not in those groups graduated. To decrease that gap, the 38 percent difference, is the goal of the focus designation.

Kaufmann said high school staff and faculty already knew about the gaps between student groups.

"It's the same information that the state reviewed when they designated us a focus school," she said. "So we already knew about the gaps between the student groups. Those are the areas we're really going to be working on."

Principal Mike Hinske said faculty and staff have been working on the program since the summer.

"We went through the Title I meetings," he said. "I have a focus team in place. They've met about two or three times already, and we'll be attending training in November." The focus team is already working with the students in those subgroups, Hinske said.

"They're working on interventions to make sure we're meeting students' needs," he said. "We're trying to better meet those standards. I hope and believe we should see raises in performance."

What's next?

Though new assessments are coming, schools can use the state report cards to change curriculum now.

"It's asking us to think much differently about our craft," Norton said. "We're working on a gradual release in responsibility. We want to move from a teacher-centered environment to a student-driven model. Students will take more of the responsibility."

Knorr said processes are already in place at Walworth to ensure standards are met.

"We have students in achievement academies in math and language arts," she said. "We also have a guided study program for homework completion and interventions for students at every grade level."

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