Making the Grade
By Mary Erpenbach
Hey, where’s the big chart for schools?
We know readers might be wondering where the ACT scores and reading levels have gone. After all, we listed those and other school criteria in our previous Rating the Suburbs.
Creating that chart in past reports was a laborious process. For each school district, we looked up student test scores and student-to-teacher ratios and graduation rates and much (much!) more. Then we compiled the data into an overall district score.
This year, though, we discovered that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction had already done this for us—and our readers—in a scoring of school success it calls the School Report Card.
DPI began issuing these annual report cards last year as part of a new accountability system that replaced No Child Left Behind. Similar to a student progress report, the new report card tracks school success in four main areas: student achievement, student growth, closing gaps, and on-track/postsecondary readiness. Based on its success in these four, the school receives an overall accountability score (from 0–100) that determines the extent to which it meets state expectations.
The new report card does make some things seem less complicated. For example, it serves up simplicity—no-nonsense numbers that make interpretation and comparison easier from district to district and state to state.
But it has limitations, and educators have raised concerns. Chris Bauman, president of the Middleton Education Association and a teacher at Middleton High School, says there is now “a lot more emphasis being placed on standardized tests” in the new scoring system. This emphasis, in turn, can obscure other areas of student and school achievement.
Laura Pinsonneault, director of Educational Accountability at DPI, also cautions against relying too heavily on a single aspect of a school’s overall score. “When looking at one piece of data,” she says, “keep in mind there are a lot of other things we could and should be talking about with regard to what it means to be a successful school.”
Because the School Report Card is the new standard, we used it for our school-ranking data. We took school scores given by DPI and averaged them into an overall district score.
As we did this, we looked within and across districts when appropriate. Mazomanie and Black Earth students, for example, attend local elementary schools that feed into Wisconsin Heights High School. So the score for those suburbs reflects the scores of their individual elementary schools and their shared high school. Other times, we averaged the scores of the schools that serve more than one suburb. Fitchburg, for instance, takes its score from an average of the Madison West, Verona and Oregon schools that serve their own districts as well as the students of Fitchburg.
When we were finished, we had the ranking of suburban Dane County schools that you see here.