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Small classes, big impact on Bay's WKCE results



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September 01, 2010 | 08:37 AM
Williams Bay — Sometimes small is better, especially when teaching students or testing them, said Superintendent Fred Vorlop.

And at the bottom of the last page of the most recent Bay Window, the school district's news letter, is the observation: "Good Schools come in small packages."

This year, Williams Bay's high school's juniors again ranked among the leaders in the ACT test. The test, with a maximum of 36 points, measures students' skills in English, math, reading and science. With 94 percent of the class of '10 taking the test for college placement, they scored an average of 24, up from last year's average of 23.7.

Statewide, the average was 22.1, down from last year's average of 22.3

And all of Williams Bay's grades did well again in the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), with students meeting and exceeding state standards for advanced or proficient knowledge in the core study areas of reading, math, language arts, science and social studies.

The tests are given to every public school student in grades 3 through 8 and 10, and are administered in November. The most recent testing was in November 2009.

During those years, all of the students are tested in reading and math. Grades 4, 8 and 10 are also tested in language arts, science and social studies.

When reporting results for schools, the state Department of Public Instruction combines the percent of students who scored in the advanced (the top rank) and proficient (the second rank) in the tested subject. The stated goal of the state's school districts is to have all students score in those top two categories.

This year, among students in grades 3 through 6, Williams Bay had 89.3 percent of the students scoring in the top two categories in math and 95.4 percent in reading.

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According to DPI figures, those are the highest percentages Williams Bay Elementary School has had in those categories in the past five years.

The previous high in grade school math during the past five years was 89.1 percent who scored advanced or proficient in 2008. The previous highest percentage to so score in reading was 92.6 percent in 2006.

And the fourth graders hit the heights, with 100 percent of their tested student body being advanced or proficient in language arts and social studies. The numbers came down a bit for science, with 95 percent proficient or advanced.

Williams Bay's test numbers are the kind some school district's can only dream about.

The state average for advanced and proficient reading in grades 3-6 for 2009 was 81.4 percent, and in math it was 80.5 percent.

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And for fourth graders state wide, averages were 77.3 for language arts, 92.5 for social studies and 77 percent for science.

But while small can be good, it can also work against a district.

"For example, this year we had a graduating class of 58," said Vorlop. In earlier years, those classes were as small as 38, he added.

In classes that small, 1 student is worth 4 percentage points. Let one student have a bad day testing, and the district's WKCE scores can fluctuate all over the place, Vorlop said.

"In a bigger school district, there can be more consistency (in scores) because of larger numbers of students," he said.

Scores also tend to trend downward during junior high school, because by then, teachers are concentrating on college proficiency, he said.

While that may detract from scores recorded by eighth graders, it pays off at the high school level. About 94 percent of the class of 2010 intend to go on to further education, Vorlop said.

The focus annually is on the results of the WKCE taken in the previous November, but that may change in the near future. Vorlop said the State Department of Public Instruction is already looking for something to replace the test, which has been criticized by some professionals as inadequate.

The state announced it was phasing out the WKCE is August 2009, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Wisconsin education officials are competing for part of a $350 million in grants that the U.S. Education Department plans to award for test development.

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