Local school districts assess DPI scores, evaluate progress

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Prairie, Wauzeka and River Ridge respond to state-issued report cards

By Steve Van Kooten


At the end of November, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released the school report cards to Wisconsin schools and districts for the 2022-23 school year. The reports evaluated school performance in comparison to the state’s web of education systems, which included public schools, participating private schools and some alternative programs. 

Report cards used data from 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. DPI noted the 2022-23 report cards were the first since the COVID-19 pandemic not to utilize date from pre-pandemic school years. Schools nationwide saw an uptick in performance scores, but many schools were still below their numbers before 2020.

In a news release from DPI, nationwide achievement had improved between 2021-22 and 2022-23; however, in Southwest Wisconsin about two-thirds of schools had worse scores in 2022-23 than the previous year.

Report cards measured four major categories: Achievement, Growth, Target Group Outcomes and On-Track Graduation. The first two categories were weighted based on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in the district. Based on the data DPI used from Prairie, Wauzeka and River Ridge, the higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students in a district, the more weight Growth had in the score while Achievement weighed less.  In local districts, Prairie du Chien reported 57.7 percent, Wauzeka-Steuben reported 59.9 percent and River Ridge reported 44.7 percent economically disadvantaged students. Achievement weighed significantly more in River Ridge’s score (18.5 percent versus Prairie (9.9) and Wauzeka (8.4)).

The average district score (out of 100) in Wisconsin was 68.9, down from 69.9 in 2021-22, and Southwest Wisconsin schools averaged 68.5, down from 69.6 the previous year. Scores fell into one of four categories: Below Expectations, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations or Significantly Exceeds Expectations. DPI reported 378 school districts in Wisconsin received report cards and 357 (94 percent) met, exceeded or significantly exceeded expectations. Of the 2,098 individual schools 1,601 (83 percent) met, exceeded or significantly exceeded expectations, and 255 schools improved their categorical ranking by one level or more while 394 decreased at least one categorical level or more. Prairie du Chien (70.8) and Wauzeka-Steuben (77.6) districts attained Exceeds Expectations while River Ridge (66.2) was given Meets Expectations.

District administrators like Dr. Gary Albrecht, Interim District Administrator for Wauzeka-Steuben; Andy Banasik, Prairie du Chien; and Clay Koenig, River Ridge, reviewed the report cards to chart progress for their respective domains.

“We had some concerns a few years ago about the improvements certain groups were making,” Banasik said. “We really closed that gap. The principals and teachers have done a great job to make that gap smaller.” Prairie du Chien district scored 65.8 in Achievement, 64.1 in Growth, 63.6 in Target Group Outcomes and 90.6 in On-Track Graduation. “I think you’re seeing the work ethic or our teachers.”

“I tend to look at trends, also recognizing those can change quickly. Keep in mind those DPI reports are a snapshot in time,” Albrecht said. “It’s not a scientific or airtight as you might think.” Wauzeka-Steuben district scored 61.6 in Achievement, 76.5 in Growth, 71.9 in Target Group Outcomes and 90.7 in On Track Graduation. The district had also ranked first among CESA 3 districts for the second year in a row.

Albrecht noted a small district didn’t have to make many changes in student performance to see noticeable differences on the report card: “We know that when we have as few students as we have here, it takes less disruption in the process to make those scores move, up or down, either way. A couple kids in a class of 17 make a big difference.”

Koenig saw DPI as one piece of the education puzzle: “It’s one bit—a snapshot—one piece of what we use to get kids to learn at the highest level. Every district will like this if they score well.” River Ridge scored 66.8 in Achievement, 60.3 in Growth, 57.6 in Target Group Outcomes and 81.6 in On Track Graduation.

“Our growth isn’t where it has been in the past several years,” Koenig stated. He pointed out that a low Growth score didn’t mean students weren’t learning; it may also mean the students had started out at a high level academically. “That’s what I had to explain to the board: our achievement is high compared to the state and our growth is lower compared to the state. That means we’re doing a good job getting kids to learn what they need to know, but we need to focus on make sure there’s growth there from what they knew before [the previous year].”

Koenig further stated low growth, regardless of reason, likely affected the performance of the school’s target group, a selection of students—unknown to the district—that hovered between basic knowledge and proficiency in the DPI’s scoring categories. “It’s almost a double-whammy because if your growth isn’t there, that’s what they’re taking their targeted group for. When you’re not growing, that targeted group is probably affecting you because that’s probably the group that’s not growing.”

Administrators all emphasized the DPI report cards were one of many tools used by the schools to analyze their own performance.

“We take the data given by these state report cards and break it down and individualize it,” Koenig said. He also stated the key was to transform the data from a “bird’s eye view” of the school into usable pieces to help address students’ performances. “We try to get it back into the hands of the teachers.”

Albrecht stated there were several contextual factors that affected DPI scores and had wider implications on school and student performance: attendance, graduation rates and staff retention all mattered.  “Those are some of the key context area. Are we there yet? No. There’s some areas to continue to spend time on.” 

Student transience and open enrollment further muddied the waters. According to the report card, one in five students in the Wauzeka-Steuben district were from open enrollment. Prairie and River Ridge have significantly less open enrolled students (less than 10 percent each), according the DPI report cards.

Banasik also noted each year there are differences in what the students are tested on as well as the teaching styles presented to them.

And while administrators didn’t want to see their district or individuals schools in the Below Expectations category, they credited their communities as the difference-maker in how effectively the schools served their students.

Koenig recalled the lack of community reaction when River Ridge scored well among all Wisconsin schools and said, “I think that’s where the parents always stand: It’s important to know the school is functioning for all the students, but ‘is the school successful for my student?’ If the parent can’t see we’re doing as much we can for their student, then these numbers don’t matter.”

“What I like here is—and what I think our strength is—the culture,” Albrecht said. “The parents and the community bend over backwards for our school, and it shows in our referendums, it shows when you go in the gymnasium and it’s packed.”

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