DPI report cards show improvement
By Robert Cloud
Ongoing changes in how Waupaca teaches its students have resulted in a nearly 14-point jump in the district’s report card.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released its annual report cards for school districts and individual schools.
Last year, DPI gave the Waupaca School District an overall score of 66.3, which placed it within the Meets Expectations category.
The Waupaca School District earned a score of 80 this year, which placed it within the Exceeds Expectations category.
Greg Nyen, the district administrator, noted Waupaca ranked No. 1 among the 35 school districts in CESA 5, which is a regional education support agency.
“We want Waupaca to be the best school district in the state,” Nyen said. “We’re all about creating opportunities for success.”
Waupaca’s individual schools also saw improvements to their overall scores.
Waupaca Learning Center’s overall score rose from 82.2 to 84.5 this year, which gave it a rating of Significantly Exceeds Expectations.
Waupaca Middle School’s overall score rose from 65.9 to 77.6, which Exceeds Expectations.
Waupaca High School’s overall score rose from 66.4 to 71.1, which Meets Expectations.
The district’s 2016-17 report card received a carrot symbol (^) because the DPI considers a 10-point or more change from the previous school year to be an outlier.
The DPI says it is not clear whether these fluctuations are due to actual changes in school performance or are symptoms of statistical volatility.
Nyen attributed the higher scores to the district’s implementation of a multi-tiered support system (MTSS) for students and staff.
“In Waupaca, we believe that all students can perform at a high level,” Nyen said. “The system is designed to monitor each student’s progress and apply the support systems necessary to help all students achieve at a high level.”
The high school has created a Comet Success Center that replaces traditional study hall.
“We have teachers from the four major disciplines – math, language arts, science and social studies,” Nyen said. “They provide one-on-one and small group support throughout the day.”
Nyen said younger students are screened three times a year to measure their progress.
“These screening tools have benchmarks built into them,” Nyen said. “When we see a student below the benchmark for their age and grade, then that student’s team of educators come together to help bring that student’s achievement levels up to expectations.”
Nyen said the role of teachers at Waupaca schools is being transformed from “ the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.”
“We’re creating a culture where our educators take ownership for ensuring that all our students are learning at a high level,” Nyen said.
The four goals of Waupaca’s multi-tiered support system are to create a safe and collaborative culture, a guaranteed and viable curriculum, effective teaching in every classroom and target-based assessment, grading and reporting.
Nyen said a school environment is safe when students are not afraid to take risks.
He noted that under MTSS, the role of homework in a student’s grade is changing.
“When homework is graded, students put undue emphasis on getting the right answer, rather than understanding the concept,” Nyen said.
He said not grading homework can eliminate a student’s desire to cheat by copying another student’s answers.
Teachers will continue to assign homework, but it will not be graded. Instead, teachers will use the results to focus on specific areas where an individual student needs to improve.
Nyen said the district will also focus more on curriculum.
“We’re making sure that everybody is teaching the same standards and we’re using sound instruction practices that, through research, have proven a high probability for student success,” Nyen said.
Professor John Hattie, a New Zealand educator, synthesized the findings of 1,400 meta-analyses of 80,000 studies involving 300 million of students worldwide.
He then measured the different influences on student achievement, ranging from class size or a student not being liked in class, to a teacher’s credibility or a teacher’s expectations.
His work measures the effectiveness of technology and different instructional strategies.
A color code indicates which methods and strategies have the “potential to considerably accelerate student achievement” (dark blue) and which methods and strategies are “likely to have a negative impact on student achievement.”
From this research, there is evidence teacher expectations of their students is the most important factor in student achievement.
Waupaca is looking to increase its “collective teacher efficacy,” or the staff’s belief that by working together they can help any student, regardless of their economic backgrounds or attitudes toward learning, to reach higher levels of achievement.
“We want all of our students to support all of our students,” Nyen said. “By raising expectations for our students and staff, we’re beginning to see the results already.”
According to DPI figures, the Waupaca School District outperforms the state score in every category, including student achievement, district growth, closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness.
One area where Nyen hopes to see more improvement is in closing gaps.
Wisconsin public schools have placed added emphasis on closing the performance gap between the general student population and those who are economically disadvantaged or have disabilities.
“We still have work to do on our culture,” Nyen said regarding the district’s students with disabilities. “The research is clear. For our students with disabilities to perform, they need to be in enriched environments with their non-disabled peers.”
Nyen said the job of special education is to provide support mechanisms so students can overcome their specific disabilities.
Every district employee has a role in encouraging student achievement.
“Our support staff has as much to do with our levels of success as our teachers,” Nyen said.
He noted a student’s first contact with the school each day is with bus drivers, who should make the contact positive.
Nyen said the role of food workers is to help students focus on learning rather than hunger.
The administrators of each school should make sure the MTSS is being implemented with fidelity.
“It’s pretty easy to watch a new stadium being built,” Nyen said. “Doing the work of student achievement is less visible and takes more time. Student achievement is the work of the school board and the work of the district.”