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State school report cards offer complex mix of data

The need to improve attendance was one of the big takeaways for the Superior School District.

Junior Liv Strand works on her laptop during class at Superior High School
Junior Liv Strand works on her laptop computer during class at Superior High School in October 2022.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — State report cards for the 2021-22 school year were released last fall by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“I think the biggest takeaways from our report cards, definitely, we have seen the national trend dip in both attendance, so we have our chronic truancy is a concern and it has worsened since COVID,” said Kate Tesch, director of continuous improvement and assessment for the Superior School District.

Attendance factors into each school’s graduation readiness score on the report card and can impact both student achievement and growth. Pre-COVID, about 95% of students in the district attended school regularly. In the 2020-21 school year, that dropped to 92.5%.

The annual report cards combine three years of data.

“We saw a decline of anywhere, depending on the building or grade level, two to three to five percentage points, fewer kids attending regularly or an increase in our chronic truancy rates," Tesch said. "I would say if you spoke with every principal in the district, that’s our No. 1 concern is frequent attendance. We need kids in school every day to be able to impact math, achievement, reading achievement, social skills."

Attendance numbers for the 2021-22 school year will be released this spring.

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Apples to oranges

The annual DPI report cards are a tool to help guide where improvements are needed. But they can be misleading due to their complicated nature, according to Tesch. She likened them to income taxes, which are more complex then they initially appear.

“They have scores and it appears simple, but the weights, every building has different weights on those areas,” Tesch said. “It is not apples to apples.”

Schools are not scored in the same way, she said, so comparing one to another is not accurate. Components are weighted differently for each school building, with many of the categories drawing on three years of data.

First-year teacher Elise Hintzman talks to some of her students in her Reading, Writing and Reporting class at Superior High School
First-year teacher Elise Hintzman talks to students in her Reading, Writing and Reporting class at Superior High School in October 2022.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

A school building with a higher percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch, for example, will have more emphasis placed on student growth, the year-to-year progress on state tests. Students at that school could be testing well, but if they’re not showing growth it could lead to a lower report card score.

The achievement scores of student subgroups, such as students with disabilities, are only included if there are 20 or more students in that subgroup at the school.

Tesch said focusing on a single school’s report card, and how it’s changed from year to year, can be useful, although there have been some changes over the years on how the DPI scores different categories.

For example, SHS saw significant growth this year, Tesch said, fueled by English language arts data and graduation rates. It’s the second year in a row SHS has seen its state report card score increase.

“I think that’s a powerful piece of data,” Tesch said. “Historically, it was harder at that level to get the needle to move.”

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Junior Koda Bosma reads on her laptop during a class at Superior High School
Junior Koda Bosma reads on her laptop computer during a class at Superior High School in October 2022.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

The state report cards serve a purpose.

“I think, you know, it’s always good for us to have a measure outside of ourselves to check ourselves against,” Tesch said. “It is important to have accountability measures from a state level. But where we see the true impact is in the planning and the action steps we’re taking in the district based on more current, timely data.”

The Superior School District has its own in-house benchmark assessments, administered to elementary students in the fall, winter and spring and to middle school students in the fall and winter.

“So we’re assessing kids three times a year minimally at the elementary level, just as kind of a dipstick well child check: How is everybody doing and how are we moving as buildings in a district,” Tesch said. “We also look at attendance data, we look at discipline data, we look at social emotional data on all of our kids, and all of our buildings to create the other side of the triangle picture. So we’ve got the achievement side, but we know that there’s a lot more happening.”

The district continuously monitors those data pieces, she said, using them to build individual continuous improvement plans for each building. These plans, as well as more detailed school profiles that showcase each building’s accomplishments, goals and strategies, can be found at superior.k12.wi.us under "Strategic Plan."

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