Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Bay aims for higher academic rating
Superintendent: growing poverty, rising standards are challenges

by Chris Schultz

November 22, 2012

WILLIAMS BAY — It’s hard enough that the state is changing its measure of student performance.

But Williams Bay is also dealing with a demographic that is dramatically altering.

In measuring educational achievement, the state Department of Public Instruction is moving away from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE), said Superintendent Vance Dalzin.

According to the DPI website, the WKCE will continue for one more year, and in 2014 will change to a new assessment system.

The DPI also reported that this year’s WKCE test scores in reading and math were aligned with the more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress.

That meant scores weren’t as high as they might have been under the old assessment system, Dalzin said.

District doing well

Still, the Williams Bay schools did well this year. All three schools, elementary, junior high and high schools earned high scores.

The new public schools report cards are intended to measure students achievement, growth and engagement.

Engagement means attendance, test participation, absenteeism and the drop out rate.

According to the DPI ratings, scores between 73 and 82.9 are in the “exceeds expectations” category.

The elementary school scored 74.8, the junior high 76.2 and the high school 78.4.

The scores are not percentages, but an aggregate score developed by the DPI, Dalzin said.

Of the 2,118 public schools that were handed report cards by the state Department of Public Instruction, Williams Bay’s elementary, junior high and senior high schools all rank in the “exceeds expectations. According to the DPI, 637 schools, or 30 percent, scored within that range.

Only 4 percent of schools graded this year were in the “significantly exceeds expectations” category, the DPI reported.

“We want to be at ‘significantly exceeds expectations’,” Dalzin said.

However, there is a negative trend going on as well.

Economically disadvantaged on upswing

Nearly a third, 32.9 percent, of the 340 students enrolled in the Williams Bay Elementary School, are identified as economically disadvantaged.

The junior high school had 23.1 percent in that category, the high school 26.1 percent.

Those are not the highest figures in Walworth County.

For example, in the Delavan-Darien School District as a whole, 60 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged, according to the DPI.

Economically disadvantaged students are those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the DPI. According to the DPI, children in a family of four qualifies if the family’s annual income is $42,643 or less a year.

That’s been a growing trend over the past decade, said Dalzin.

“It’s doubled within the last five years and tripled within the last 10 years,” Dalzin said.

Starting this year, the state Department of Public Instruction began measuring how well school districts are “closing the gaps” between overall classroom performance and certain identified subgroups within the overall student body.

Among the subgroups the district must keep an eye on is the economically disadvantaged, to make sure those students do not fall behind their peers.

Dalzin said the change in the district’s demographics is not the result of open enrollment.

Dalzin said that, based on the information the district has, the students coming into Wiliams Bay through the open enrollment program have generally the same, or a slightly better, economic demographic than the students who attend from within the district.

The increased numbers of students relying on lunch subsidies is due to the poor economic conditions that have dogged the nation since late 2007, Dalzin said.

“Williams Bay is a microcosm of the United States. As the economy is hurting in the U.S., it’s hurting in Williams Bay,” Dalzin said.

Along with unemployment, a significant number of persons who re-entered the workforce took jobs that paid significantly less than the jobs they held previously, he said.

Strategies available

There are strategies for teachers to help students over come academic rough spots, Dalzin said.

Addressing academic standards will require teachers to work together to help students.

“We’ve really embraced this response to intervention,” Dalzin said. He said the school will focus on math and reading.

“As our demographics change, our classrooms change,” Dalzin said. “A class of 20 in Williams Bay schools today is different from a class in Williams Bay schools 10 years ago,” he said.

The advantage of a small school is that it’s not hard for high school teachers with a failing student to connect with elementary school teachers who had that student in their classes. An exchange of information between teachers can develop strategies that help individual students succeed, Dalzin said.

And teacher interventions happen as quickly as the problems are detected, Dalzin said.

“In a small school, kids are caught early,” Dalzin said. “It’s harder to fall through the cracks in a smaller high school.”

But the district must also address the economic differences between students.

Williams Bay schools must provide equal opportunities to all students to have the same educational experiences regardless of ability to pay, Dalzin said.

He said there are field trips that cost students extra. The district has no special funds to help students who can’t afford those special trips or activities.

Dalzin said he’s seen teachers personally help students who couldn’t afford a field trip or other activities that might help them scholastically.

“We don’t use taxpayer money,” he said.

Filling the tech gap

As the schools turn more and more to information technology — computers, laptops and iPads — as teaching tools, the district will have to become more and more aware of the financial gaps between students.

“We have to be sensitive to the fact that not all students have access to the technology,” Dalzin said.

How to fill that gap is still up for discussion, he said. Society has seen major changes in the past generation, Dalzin said.

In the past, a high school diploma, or just a few years in high school, might still have led to a manufacturing job, where a person might still have earned a middle class salary.

Today, with manufacturing jobs taken over by technology or sent overseas, students need a different kind of education and need to meet new standards, Dalzin said.

The new assessments will take student achievement to a higher level than it has been before, he said.

“It becomes more difficult for students to perform at a higher level,” Dalzin said of the new tests and assessments. “And we want our kids to operate at a higher academic level.

“We live in a time when we have to teach our children to be adaptable,” Dalzin said. “We need high academic expectations for our kids.”