Public school advocates say more schools would get an A if the Legislature weren’t getting an F for failure to fully support education.
Student achievement in Wisconsin schools continues to make progress bouncing back from its pandemic lows—although results are murkier for schools that are part of the state’s voucher program, where standardized tests aren’t required.
Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released its 12th annual round of report cards this week, where they grade schools and school districts based on four categories: achievement, growth, target group outcomes, and on-track to graduation—based on three years of data each time.
A DPI press release noted that of 378 public school districts receiving report card ratings for the 2022-23 school year, 357 met, exceeded, or significantly exceeded expectations (94 percent of districts). Of 2,098 public schools, 83 percent met, exceeded, or significantly exceeded expectations.
This is the first set of records that no longer includes pre-pandemic measurements in its three-year data set. The DPI report urged caution when interpreting ratings due to the impacts of the COVID pandemic.
“Statewide, achievement improved from 2021-22 to 2022-23, though for many schools and districts, 2022-23 achievement performance is lower than pre-pandemic levels,” the report said. “Thus, report card achievement scores, overall scores, and ratings may have decreased despite upward trending achievement performance.”
Public school advocates point to another negative factor affecting public schools and student achievement that far predates the pandemic—anemic support from the Wisconsin Legislature, which received its own report card from the Wisconsin Public Education Network.
“We did give the legislature an F on their school budget report card this year because they sent kids back to school for what will be the 16th year in a row with a less than inflationary increase to public school funding,” said Executive Director Heather DuBois Bourenane on UpNorthNews Radio. “That is just criminal. They are not meeting their constitutional obligation to our kids. And that comes on the heels of years of cuts and frozen spending—and just knowing full well that we aren’t meeting the needs of so many kids in our classrooms.”
DuBois Bourenane also noted the report cards illustrate the problem with relying too heavily on “one day of testing as the main way of holding our kids accountable and our schools accountable, in spite of the fact that we have limited the resources available to our schools to educate our kids.”
Some legislators, DuBois Bourenane said, may also intentionally use once-a-year ratings as a cudgel.
“We always caution people not to put too much stock in standardized testing in general, but also in these sorts of mechanisms that can be used in a punitive way to suggest that our schools are not meeting the needs of kids in ways that might not actually reflect what those needs really are.”
Of the 405 private schools participating in one of Wisconsin’s voucher programs, 136 met, exceeded, or significantly exceeded expectations (80 percent). There were 235 private schools (58 percent) that could not be scored due to insufficient data.
“We know that in private schools, many students do not take the test,” DuBois Bourenane said. “They exempt students from testing. They opt out of testing. Some of the schools don’t have to report their scores because too low a percentage of students take the test and so on. So there’s all kinds of reasons why a direct comparison isn’t entirely fair.”
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