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.