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ABCDF? - Voucher plan sparks debate on measuring Beloit schools

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 4:00 pm

Beloit officials say their schools are not failing and the report cards cited by Gov. Scott Walker to justify bringing vouchers here aren’t based on current data.

As part of his two-year budget plan Walker has proposed expanding a school voucher program to nine school districts — including Beloit — that had at least two schools with a D or F and enrollment of more than 4,000 students under report cards released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The news left open what schools Walker believes are “failing” in Beloit, how they are scored, and if it’s truly an accurate and fair picture of Beloit’s performance.

According to Walker’s “letter grades,” the School District of Beloit has seven schools getting a D, six schools getting a C and one school getting a B.

The letters are tied to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) report cards’ five rankings — “significantly exceeds expectations,” “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “meets few expectations” and “fails to meet expectations.”

Patrick Gasper, spokesperson for DPI, said the agency does not issue letter grades in association with its rankings.

But Cullen Werwie, spokesperson for Walker’s office, told the Beloit Daily News the A-B-C-D-F letters cited by Walker represent the DPI’s five categories.

Beloit Assistant Superintendent Lynee Tourdot said that last year when the testing was conducted the district had been reconfigured impacting test scores because student scores were only used for students who had been in the building for a full year. She said only a few very high or low numbers had a big impact on overall scores.

“With the reconfiguration, most elementary students weren’t counted in the scores. The scores are used to say we are failing, but they didn’t even count most of our students,” Tourdot said.

Tourdot said scores are based on Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) testing done in October of 2010, so they do not reflect changes the district has implemented this past year, including interventions. She said it could be two to three years before the scores reflect the current improvements because the scores are based on a three-year average.

She noted that attendance and other outside factors also contributed to the overall score, noting BMHS had five points taken off because of attendance from the last three-year average. Without this deduction BMHS would have been in the “meets expectations” range, she said.

Tourdot compared using the letter grades for schools to a teacher using them with students — one should not just look at the letter grade, but consider the comments as to why the grade was received, as well.

She went on to say there’s no guarantee voucher school students would perform any better on the WKCE tests, especially since they haven’t been required to take them.

Melissa Badger, spokesperson for the district, also argues public schools in general — including Beloit — are not failing.

In an email sent from central administration to all school staff, Badger said pro-voucher groups are using the DPI report cards to assign grades to schools, although DPI has stated the cards are only to set a baseline, and are a way to “shine a flashlight” on areas needing improvement. The DPI Parent Guide to the report cards says the 0 to 100 accountability index score is not a “percent correct” measurement so the scores are not the same as grades.

“Sending out the cards in August, and not even waiting a year to ‘punish’ districts with vouchers, was not the intent of the DPI. The report cards are not even based on current data,” Badger wrote.

Badger said the scores are based on a three year average starting with the prior year test, measuring work done the year before that. She said the school report cards released in August of 2012 were based on state tests taken in the Fall of 2009, 2010 and 2011, testing students’ mastery of knowledge and skills taught during the 2008-2009, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.

While Americans for Prosperity has shown a video in the Beloit, Green Bay and Kenosha communities citing the School District of Beloit as failing, she said the group’s “own McIver Institute gave Beloit Schools a passing grade. ... While there is work to be done here, giving us a C grade is not consistent with their claim that we are failing,” she wrote.

The following is a list of the rankings of schools from the 2011-2012 report card issued by DPI which received a D — according to Walker — or a “meets few expectations,” according to DPI: Merrill Elementary School, at 56.4; Robinson Elementary School, 60; Beloit Memorial High School, 58.5; Roy Chapman Andrews Academy, 62.3; Burdge Elementary School, 62.5; Gaston Elementary School, 61; and Hackett Elementary School, 59.7.

The following is a list of the rankings of schools from the 2011-2012 report card issued by DPI which received a C (Walker) or “meets expectations” (DPI): Todd Elementary School, 63.4; Aldrich, 66.2; McNeel, 63.4; Converse, 72; Cunningham, 65; and McLenegan, 71.6.

Morgan Elementary School “exceeds expectations” according to DPI with a score of 81.3, or has a B.

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  • PWC posted at 5:51 pm on Sat, Mar 2, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    BdB, I missed that article about kids coming in from Milwaukee and Chicago. Can you tell me which one that was? In any case, I still see that the demographics did not change, and as you say, that is a very important factor in achievement. Also, as I said, even if the 76 additional kids were a challenging bunch of kids, that 1% isn't enough to affect the school report card.

    I don't see vouchers as a "punishment" to the district as stated in this article, but I do see them as a possible way to get more children educated. That is what our tax dollars should be going toward -- education. Solving problems that make our schools less effective is not easy, but it can be done. Competition certainly won't hurt.

  • Blah-de-Blah posted at 4:23 pm on Sat, Mar 2, 2013.

    Blah-de-Blah Posts: 140

    PWC, I have said multiple times before that minorities were showing major upward trends, and I still don't deny that. However, the district did fail in other tests, and they said in the article that students had come in from Chicago and Milwaukee. Another reason they did cite was the changing of the school grades. That aside, I still stand firm by my belief that school success cannot be measured by the conduct of the schools alone. We must look at the demographics as well, and figure out what kind of population the schools are dealing with.

  • PWC posted at 3:07 pm on Sat, Mar 2, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    Blah-de-Blah, Our districts demographics as far as race, economic status, and English proficiency remained pretty much constant from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Very little, if any, change. We only had 76 more students in the district in the 2011-12 school year than we did in the previous year and I can't imagine they were all from failing schools in Chicago and Milwaukee. In any case, an increase of 1% in total enrollment, regardless of what type of students we got would not have had much of an influence in the report cards because the 76 kids would likely be distributed throughout the school district pretty evenly. A large influx of failing students was not one of the factors cited by the district last year as a reason for declining test scores. As a matter of fact, African-American and hispanic students were trending upward, according to the article.

  • Blah-de-Blah posted at 12:39 pm on Sat, Mar 2, 2013.

    Blah-de-Blah Posts: 140

    Bill does bring up a good point. The biggest reason the school district had issues with their test scores back in May was because they had a large influx of failing students coming into the district from Milwaukee and Chicago. School success cannot be measured solely on how the schools themselves perform. We also have to look at the demographics of the student population. If you look at our school demographics, you will find students who for the most part are middle class or poor, or have an unstable household. I can almost guarantee you that if two high school students got into a fight, you could go to their houses and find some sort of problem with it that impinges on healthy development.

    As for the issue of voucher schools, there are pros and cons to them. Voucher schools certainly offer the opportunity for students to go somewhere where their educational needs can be addressed. However, they do create an unfair advantage to public schools trying to compete with them. Take OLA for instance. If you compare OLA to Aldrich and McNeel, what is the best? Undeniably, it would be OLA. However, not everyone can attend OLA. I'm not sure if they still do, but at one time they turned away IEP students because they labeled them as liabilities. Do you think that is fair to the student? If voucher schools came into the picture, Beloit Memorial would surely be hurting, but at the same time there are things Beloit Memorial offers that other schools in the area do not.

    In the end, I suppose I would be in favor of voucher schools. It causes student population shifts that would allow administrations to better identify and isolate common student problems. Although there would be a disadvantage at first, it could transform into an advantage as student population problems are addressed and treated.

  • PWC posted at 10:05 am on Sat, Mar 2, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    Here is an excerpt from the proposed budget. Might answer some questions:
    Elementary and Secondary Education
    The Governor seeks to continue to expand choices for parents, especially for parents of students in struggling schools. The Governor's 2011-13 budget included the first expansion of the parental choice program beyond Milwaukee since its inception in 1989. As a result, low-income parents in the Racine Unified school district are afforded more control over the education of their children. In a district where 16 of 32 schools do not meet expectations on school report cards, the ability for Racine families to make a choice is particularly valuable. Through the 2013-15 budget, the Governor seeks to further expand available options for families in school districts with struggling schools and provide parents with the ability to obtain the educational experience they feel is best for their child. The Governor's budget will strengthen parental choice by:
    ␣ Opening the choice program to school districts with at least two struggling schools (those receiving school report card grades of "fails to meet expectations" or "meets few expectations"), at least 4,000 students and at least 20 students that intend to participate in the program. This expansion will be capped at 500 students statewide for fiscal year 2013-14, and 1,000 students statewide for fiscal year 2014-15. Eligibility requirements for students would be similar to current choice program eligibility requirements.
    ␣ Increasing the per pupil payment to participating schools from $6,442 to $7,050 for pupils in grades kindergarten through 8 and $7,856 for pupils in grades 9 through 12. This is the first increase since 2009-10. Although this increase does not achieve parity with charter schools, it is a first step toward that goal.

  • billtinder posted at 8:55 am on Sat, Mar 2, 2013.

    billtinder Posts: 4908

    I don't see how those three year numbers could be considered as a reliable factor in determining success or failure. The overall intelligence of the students could change significantly between years 1 and 4, which could have a notable impact on tests; without school overall performance ever improving or degrading.I realize that this is all an average, but it's still possible for outside factors to impact the outcome.

  • Delavan Mike posted at 9:40 pm on Fri, Mar 1, 2013.

    Delavan Mike Posts: 1295

    No its not. I believe private schools are a great asset to any community and can offer quality education that can include a religious education that cannot be provided in the public schools. I was saddened to see Beloit Catholic close years ago and Brother Dutton more recently. Beloit is very much under served by private schools, but people do have a choice right now if they want their child to attend the schools that do exist. The issue is if tax money should subsidize that choice..period.

  • 1badbubyu posted at 6:57 am on Fri, Mar 1, 2013.

    1badbubyu Posts: 1675

    Any child should be allowed to go to any school he/she desires, especially if the parent agrees and has the means to get said child to and from that school....this is all about people disliking private schools..period.

  • Mike_Zoril posted at 6:00 pm on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    Mike_Zoril Posts: 2898

    DMike says: "Parents already have a choice. The question is if tax money should subsidize that choice."

    We as a society have already decided that tax money should be used to pay for the education of the nation's youth. Anybody paying taxes, including those who do not currently have children in school and never will, should have a voice at the table regarding how much of their money should be used to pay for this education. However, taxpaying families with school age children (or soon to have children) are the only ones that should be allowed to decide how to spend that subsidy. This will ensure that the producers (schools - public OR private) will produce a product that consumers (students/parents) want and will direct more money to the best producers so we get more of their product and less product from the under performing producers - as defined by the consumers (not 3rd parties). If the taxpayers believe the consumers are not wisely spending the education money they have given out, then taxpayers should have the right to cut or eliminate the funding.

    We as a nation have also decided to subsidize housing via the homeowner's mortgage tax deduction. The DPI, government, the community, voters, or whoever else have no right to tell you which house to buy. Each individual home owner gets to decide what works best for them. It should be the same way with education.

  • Delavan Mike posted at 3:04 pm on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    Delavan Mike Posts: 1295

    WEAC? How did WEAC get dragged into this conversation? Paranoia perhaps?

    Parents already have a choice. The question is if tax money should subsidize that choice.

  • PWC posted at 2:34 pm on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    Here is an interpretive guide of the school report card:

  • PWC posted at 2:32 pm on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770
    If you go to the above link you will see how every school cannot be scored in every area. For instance, the high school does not receive a score in 3rd grade math and Morgan Elementary does not receive a score on ACT participation and performance. Seems fair to me in that it compares similar schools to each other and those throughout the state. From that DPI site:"Overall Accountability Score is an average of Priority Area Scores, minus Student Engagement Indicator deductions. The average is weighted differently for schools that cannot be measured with all priority areas scored to ensure that Overall Accountability Score can be compared fairly for all schools. "

  • BeloitGuy posted at 1:23 pm on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    BeloitGuy Posts: 118

    It's incomplete to simply state that the scores are based on a three year average. Yes, the scoring system works off three years of testing, but this is just one portion of the overall score. There are additional scoring areas that the DPI uses, but depending on the school configuration and available data, these other scoring areas may not apply. One area charts student growth rate, adding or detracting from the overall score depending on whether kids are learning faster or slower than average as the years progress. Another scores a school on closing achievement gaps, adding or detracting depending on how the scoring gap changes over time among different ethnic groups. A final area looks mainly at attendance.

    I personally have quite a few reservations with how they go about calculating the scores, and won't get into that here. I encourage the curious to dig deeper into the methodology. If not, understand at minimum that not all schools receive their "grade" based upon the same criteria. If you have information for all four scoring areas, each determines 25% of your final score. If you're lacking one or more areas, it's impossible to use the scores as an objective comparison tool among schools. Perhaps most odd, in my humble opinion, is that if you're missing the "growth" and "gaps" scores, then the rolling average may represent as much as 80% of your final score. Schools without growth and gaps scores live or die almost exclusively on their test results. Schools with growth and gaps scores may mask either exceptionally high or exceptionally low performance scores. It's truly an odd system, and ripe for misapplication of using the single "score" granted to each school as a comparison tool.

  • Mike_Zoril posted at 12:44 pm on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    Mike_Zoril Posts: 2898

    Because the scores are calculated based on a 3 year average, they will not take into account any changes made last year. However, that in and of itself is no guarantee that:

    a. The changes will actually result in improvement
    b. If there is improvement, it is long-term and not temporary
    c. Even if there is long-term improvement, it is enough improvement

    When it comes to vouchers, perhaps we should not even take into consideration of how well or how poor public schools are performing. This is America. We value the right to make choices and decide what is best for each of us on an individual level. A one-size-fits-all mentality by definition means some people will get something they do not prefer.

    Even if the DPI has some metrics to measure Beloit's schools, who's to say that the DPI's metrics perfectly match up with the metrics of individual families in our community? I bet they don't. For that reason, I say let's have vouchers and let the people decide what is best for their own families. This is a decision that should not be in the hands of the DPI, the public school system, or anybody else except the families actually using the school system.

  • FaceTheFacts posted at 8:35 am on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    FaceTheFacts Posts: 327

    Ahh Bill, This could explain many things then. HHmm, The "Happy Wok Buffets" and Socialist views? The mind altering drugs are in the food supply!! [beam]

  • 1badbubyu posted at 8:25 am on Thu, Feb 28, 2013.

    1badbubyu Posts: 1675

    So now Miss. Badger is dropping e-mails saying the vouchers are punishment....that's nice. Way to bring people together! None of the pro WEAC/Union people will ever agree to reductions, vouchers or anything that cuts into their cash flow. Just increase after increase. Remember, don't you dare question the almighty WEAC! There are some people who refuse to admit that the public school system is not up to par. They always want more money claiming that will fix the problems. We raise taxes, we pass referendums, we do all these things yet as soon as an idea comes along that cuts into their bottom line cash they have a problem. When is enough enough for WEAC? .....

  • billtinder posted at 11:36 pm on Wed, Feb 27, 2013.

    billtinder Posts: 4908

    My guess is: Mike teaches in Elkhorn, to better access the best Chinese for a hundred miles; on his lunch hours.

  • RagingBuc77 posted at 7:59 pm on Wed, Feb 27, 2013.

    RagingBuc77 Posts: 6

    More excuses by the SDB administration, big surprise. The community should demand that this current admin is ran completely out of town! They can talk and talk, but yet nothing ever changes except for increases in their paychecks! Ridiculous.

  • Delavan Mike posted at 6:33 pm on Wed, Feb 27, 2013.

    Delavan Mike Posts: 1295

    Wow, I'm popular. People are calling me out and soliciting my opinion before I have even commented now.

    I can't speak for Beloit because I don't teach there. I also don't teach in Delavan but I do know that teacher salaries have not been going up there unchecked the last few years as FTF claims. I know I personally have not had a raise in going on four years where I do teach. So I guess my memory isn't so short.

    I understand the desire to have accountability, but isn't it dangerous to use data in a way it wasn't meant to be used? Walker is throwing these "grades" around when the DPI says that is not what the numbers mean. If we are going to use the state report card for real accountability then we should use it as it was intended, not the way Walker wants it to be used.

  • FaceTheFacts posted at 4:44 pm on Wed, Feb 27, 2013.

    FaceTheFacts Posts: 327

    Again, DENIAL Stage and VICTIM of etc...

    I am sure, that most have been also keeping up also on the other 'articles' also... How come the same thing is consistent? SDB Admin's etc...keep saying there is nothing wrong?

    And about teachers salaries... Short memories humans...that city workers did take a cut/freeze for a stint during the past few years...yet the "Energizer Bunny" never stopped for teachers.

    I read what I feel is factual (saved the link but I double check things prior to posting) which you would think some educated ones would also? (Hi Mike, How's things out in Delavan) WHOOPS...Sidetracked..

    That 10% of Beloit's population is employed by city/county/state funding.. I want to verify if this is Employed totals or head count first...

  • js20094 posted at 4:36 pm on Wed, Feb 27, 2013.

    js20094 Posts: 1441

    The DPI needs something to measure by, and to average the last 3 years tests seems good enough to me to say that the district is not, or has not improved in three years. The SDB needs to stop making excuses, its students have been in some kind of transition for years, weather it be going to a block schedule, the changing of grades between middle and elementary schools, or whatever. Its about time someone called a duck a duck. The SDB has been failing our students for years, and its finnaly nice to see someone holding them accountable for it.


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