JEFFERSON — Like every school district everywhere, Jefferson felt the impact of the pandemic in terms of unexpected absences, lost learning and slowed progress.

This is reflected in the new Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction “report cards” that were released earlier this month.

These report cards are created as part of the state education department’s accountability system. The DPI produces report cards for every publicly funded school and district in Wisconsin.

As expected going into this year’s report card process, scores for the Jefferson school district overall and for individual schools are lower than they have been in past years, although the district as a whole and every single school in the district still reach the “meets expectations” level.

Outliers on the positive side are West Elementary School, which “exceeds expectations” with a score of 76.6, and Sullivan Elementary School, which “significantly exceeds expectations” with a score of 90.8.

Numerous factors during the ongoing pandemic make it harder than usual to parse out what these “report card” scores mean for individual districts and schools.

First off, the accountability score ranges shifted slightly this year.

Secondly, there were no school “report cards” issued in 2019-20 due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, so numbers from the 2020-21 school year are being compared to numbers from the 2018-19 year, with a slightly different group of students participating.

Introducing the district and school report cards for analysis at Monday night’s school board, school officials quoted State Superintendent of Schools Jill Underly, who recently commented on statewide results.

“During a school year of unprecedented challenges, and in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, our educators and students persevered,” Underly said. “Participation and proficiency rates look different than other years, and that is not surprising considering the extraordinary circumstances and challenges faced everywhere in our state.

“Make no mistake,” she said. “Students learned many lessons this year — in resilience, time management, technology and problem-solving — that may not be reflected in a standardized assessment,” Underly said, acknowledging that “We continue to have work to do to ensure our students are growing, learning, and feel safe and supported at school.”

Looking at Jefferson’s achievement in English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, Jefferson school officials noted that the district came out about equal to, or slightly ahead of the state average.

Jefferson recorded a score of 63.0 in ELA, compared to 61.8 for the state overall.

In math, the local district recorded a score of 59.5, just ahead of the state average at 59.4.

In all areas, the district saw slight dips in achievement compared to the previous figures, from two years prior.

As a group, Hispanic/Latinx students saw their score in ELA go down 7.6 points over the test two years ago. White students recorded the exact same drop.

Students listed as a mix of two or more races saw their scores go down 6.0 points and those who fell into the economically disadvantaged category saw a drop of 5.5 points. Students with disabilities remained about the same, marking a drop of only 0.8 points.

The largest drop was seen in English Language Learners in which scores dropped 11 points during a time of increased isolation and decreased opportunity.

Similar decreases were seen in students’ math scores. Again, Hispanic and White students saw their scores drop by the same number of points, 9.4.

Those of two or more races saw a smaller drop of 3.9 points. Those in the economically disadvantaged category saw their scores fall 6.4 points. Students with disabilities saw a drop of 4.3 points.

Again, the largest dip was seen among English Language Learners, who registered scores some 10.4 points lower than the tests from two years before.

The school board also looked at growth among particular student cohorts, comparing the same group’s standardized test scores over three years’ time.

Jefferson students’ growth in ELA was shown to be right on par with the state average, and local students’ growth in math was slightly below the state average.

The school board also examined outcomes for certain target groups of students — those in the bottom quartile of performance based on previous years’ achievement, growth, chronic absenteeism, attendance and graduation.

Another priority area for examination was the rate of students being “on track to graduation.”

This measure took into account three components: chronic absenteeism (defined as missing 10 percent of school days for whatever reason), the graduation rate, and how all students did as a group on a couple of key standardized tests: the third-grade ELA test and the eighth-grade math test.

Overall, the Jefferson district does fairly well on these measures, but there is room for improvement.

Katie Grundahl, director of curriculum and instruction for the district, noted that absenteeism and graduation rates are lagging indicators. The numbers that went into the current “report card” actually reflect graduation rates and attendance from the 2019-20 school year, only a fraction of which was affected by the pandemic and the switch to all virtual instruction in the spring of 2020.

The effects of the pandemic likely will be seen much more strongly on the coming report card, as the 2020-21 school year information just was validated and officially will be turned in to the state in December to go on the next DPI “report card,” Grundahl said.

The real rate of chronic absenteeism is really hard to parse out during a year when many students were required to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure and others had difficulty tuning in to their online classes due to technology issues.

However, DPI figures show Jefferson’s score comes in slightly better than the state average on this measure.

Interestingly, the disparity between white students and other sub-groups has dropped since 2017-18.

Graduation rates in Jefferson also were slightly above the state average.

As a group, Jefferson third-graders also outperformed their peers across the state in ELA proficiency rates, at 63.4 versus 58.9 statewide.

However, the district lagged a bit behind in eighth grade math proficiency, with a 50.4 proficiency rate compared to 55.3 statewide.

The school board then looked at the scores for the individual schools in different areas.

Jefferson High School, with an overall score of 59.2, had some advantages, with higher-than-the-state-average graduation rates; good growth for students in disabilities; more advanced courses, industry-recognized credentials, and work-based learning; and high participation in arts courses.

Areas to work on included lower scores in ELA and math; a large drop seen in the achievement levels of English Language Learners; and problems with absenteeism and graduation rates among the target group.

Jefferson Middle School, with an overall score of 65.7, stood out with higher attendance rates than the state average, higher ELA growth than the state average, and good growth rates both in ELA and math among English Language Learners and those who are economically disadvantaged.

Areas which could show improvement include lower math scores than the state average; low proficiency rates in certain targeted groups, chronic absenteeism in target groups, and lower-than-desired growth in ELA and math.

East Elementary School, with an overall score of 68.8, showed the following strengths: above-average achievement in both ELA and math; and math growth in the target group at the same rate as those in the non-target-group.

Areas to work on include declining ELA and math proficiency over the past three report cards and chronic absenteeism for certain sub-groups.

Sullivan Elementary School, as it traditionally does, achieved the best scores in the district, with an overall score of 90.8.

Strengths for that school include higher third-grade proficiency rates than the state average, and high student achievement and growth in both ELA and math.

Opportunities for improvement include lower proficiency rates for those who are economically disadvantaged, a decrease in the number of students scoring in the “advanced” category over the past few years, and chronic absenteeism rates for certain sub-groups.

West Elementary School also did quite well, considering the higher number of students it serves who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The school achieved an overall score of 76.6.

West’s strengths include overall scores in the “exceeds expectations” area, and above-average growth scores in both ELA and math.

A couple of goals for this school include raising the below-state-average performance on the third-grade ELA achievement, and improving the number of students who fall into the “advanced” category, which has dropped in recent years.

Lastly, the board examined the district’s action plan based on these recent assessments and the new report card scores.

Highlights of this action plan include supporting students’ academic growth as they continue to move through COVID-19; providing students with meaningful learning opportunities in each content area; creating enrichment and interventions for individual students based on identified need; training staff in best practices in ELA and math; and boosting safety and health in schools by recognizing students’ mental health and addressing it through established systems, including anti-bullying and suicide prevention efforts and other supports.

Specifically addressing the district’s lower-than-average math scores, Grundahl said the district might move up the curriculum review process to better align instruction to state standards and what is being tested.

“This report card is really based on just a few measures — English, math, chronic absenteeism, graduation rates,” Grundahl said. “We do so much more than that. We teach science. We teach social studies. There is so much more going on at our schools than is reflected in this ‘snapshot in time.’”

Recommended for you

Load comments