School district fails to meet expectations
By Bert Lehman
More than 91 percent of Wisconsin’s school districts received a “Meets Expectations” or higher grade.
Clintonville was not one of them.
The state Department of Public Instruction recently released its School Report Cards.
According to the DPI, the School Report Cards measure student achievement, student growth, closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness.
The district as a whole received a score of 61.2, which falls into the “Meets Few Expectations” accountability rating. Clintonville High School also fell in the “Meets Few Expectations” rating with a score of 56.8.
Clintonville Middle School received a score of 63.6 to fall into the “Meets Expectations” rating. A score of at least 63 is needed to “Meet Expectations.”
Clintonville Rexford-Longfellow Elementary School received a score of 69.8.
When the DPI released the School Report Cards, the press release stated the report cards “provide a snapshot of school and district performance, the 2015-16 report cards are not comparable to report cards issued in prior years and do not represent a full picture of the important work taking place in schools throughout the state. Local schools and districts will have additional information about student opportunities and performance.”
The Clintonville School Board discussed the School Report Cards the district and individual schools received at the Nov. 28 board meeting.
Clintonville Superintendent Tom O’Toole told the board that the School Report Cards have changed since they were last released two years ago. There is now weighting for the elementary and middle school buildings based on free and reduced lunch populations.
“If you have a higher free and reduced lunch population it is weighted more on growth than on achievement,” O’Toole said.
The district score is not an average of the buildings. It is the average of a number of different scores. O’Toole said there is a complicated formula to figure out the scores.
“Essentially what it comes down to is achievement,” O’Toole said.
School Board President Jim Dins asked for verification that the district was doing interventions and doubling up on math instruction.
O’Toole said in some cases.
“And we’re still looking like hell,” Dins said. “I mean, is there a way we need to work the system better because other schools must be doing it? I consider [it is] a good education we’re giving here but we’re looking like heck in this thing (school report cards).”
O’Toole replied, “I think we offer a tremendous opportunity to those who are willing to take advantage of the opportunity, we do quite well. Those who are not willing to take advantage won’t do well no matter where they are.”
School board member Lori Poppe asked how students are determined to be in poverty.
She was told it was the students on free and reduced lunch.
“That bothers me,” Poppe said.
She added that within the last few years, because of job changes, her family was on reduced lunch, and she said she’s not a poor person. She asked if the poverty classification was a way to stereotype students.
Poppe asked if the fact Clintonville has more students who are considered to be living in poverty, if that is hurting the district’s school report card numbers.
School board member Ben Huber said he doesn’t think anyone would agree that the school report cards are a perfect measure.
O’Toole said this is the first time this method for compiling scores has been used. He said some groups of students are double scored. The high school score depended on both the elementary and middle school scores. He added that for the elementary scores three different tests were used to compile the scores.
All that said, O’Toole acknowledged that some schools scored higher on their reports cards.
“We have to figure out a way to get more answers right on a standardized test,” O’Toole said. “That’s the measure that we’re going to have to be standing up to, and there are some things we’re doing differently already.”
Amy Bindas, director of Teaching and Learning for the district, told the board that teachers need to differentiate the students based on their learning ability, those that catch on right away and those students who don’t catch on the first time something is explained.
“It’s tightening up the curriculum, it’s getting those basic strategies, and it’s holding teachers accountable to using them,” Bindas said.
She added, “I think our staff can do it. And if they can’t, I think we have to hold them to the fire.”
Scott Werfal, principal at Clintonville Middle School, told the board he was ecstatic about the Clintonville Middle School Report Card. He said when he and Jeff See, Clintonville Middle School assistant principal, were hired, they were charged with getting behavior under control at the middle school. He said it took two years, but generally behavior is under control.
He added that he wished the score for the middle school was higher, but said the schedule and the curriculum for the middle school has been recently revamped in almost every subject. He said the school has become more efficient in identifying the needs of students and getting them the help they need.
“I feel great about where the middle school is at,” Werfal said.
He reiterated that the school report card is not comparable to the school report card from two years ago.
School board member Jim Schultz acknowledged that there are different factors involved, but it bothers him that the school report card numbers make the Clintonville School District look subpar.
“If somebody comes moving into this district and cares about their kids, they’re going to look at all the comparable schools around us and if their schools are higher, [they’re going to say] ‘I’m not moving to Clintonville,’” Schultz said.
Bindas said teacher collaboration is the main thing the district can do to increase student achievement.
Clintonville High School Principal Lance Bagstad said he is upset about the Clintonville High School report card score.
“We’re not excited or proud of our report card,” Bagstad said. “It’s one measure of what we do. It’s one assessment.”
He added that there has to be ownership to the score by all parties involved, including students and parents.
“We need to have engaged students and parents in this process and hope there is a realization that everyone — staff, parents and especially students — each plays an important role in improving our scores and our report card and that each group must take ownership for that improvement,” Bagstad said.
He said the High School Building Leadership Team is working on improvement strategies. This includes “the ethical assigning of grades for courses and ongoing or lack of ongoing contact with parents of students who are struggling or failing.” Bagstad said that’s an accountability issue.
Later he added, “When I hear that there are conversations happening that we’re not assigning appropriate grades because we don’t want to make parental contact, pardon my language, but it pisses me off. It very much irritates me. We need to have people accountable for what they do.”
Bagstad said he has been trying to form a high school parent advisory group, and will continue to try to form the group. He asked for volunteers in several newsletters, but has received only one response.
“We need to get parents engaged in that conversation about how they become partners with us at the high school,” Bagstad said.
A team effort is needed to better the school report cards, Bagstad said.
Dins said he feels the district is getting “ripped off” on the way it is scored on the school report cards.
Bagstad said he doesn’t like the fact the high school report card doesn’t factor in student growth.
“We have kids who grow the entire time,” Bagstad said.
O’Toole said the district and each school is “owning” their score and will work to improve it.
“I would like every parent to think about owning their kid’s score because if every parent would think about what score their kid brings, that will make a difference because the ones on the lower end of things, I’m guessing are not owning that score,” O’Toole said.