"A Routine Check-Up or Comprehensive Physical Examination?" - Part One
Recently, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released to the public School Report Cards as part of new accountability measures associated with a waiver from the “No Child Left Behind” provisions of federal law. Wisconsin’s answer to documenting and monitoring achievement and growth on various measurements is a part of the Wisconsin waiver granted several years ago.
The new School Report Cards remind me of the difference between a routine check-up and a comprehensive physical examination. If you have ever had to see a doctor for a routine check-up you know that there are several measurements that are taken and then charted for comparisons at future check-ups. These include fairly simple measurements such as height, weight, temperature, pulse/heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Nothing difficult, and nothing that is overly intrusive or time consuming. The check-up probably took less time than the period of time it took in the waiting room before your name was called.
Unlike a routine check-up, the comprehensive physical examination may involve all of the above measurements as well as more intrusive ones such as multiple laboratory tests (blood draw, x-rays, etc.). Also, a comprehensive physical exam may take a longer period of time to complete and the results of certain tests may require a waiting period and may warrant another follow-up visit to your doctor.
How does this analogy relate to the new accountability measures in Wisconsin? According to information from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website (www.dpi.state.wi.us): “Each school will earn a “score,” called an accountability index score, from 0 to 100. This score is displayed on the report card. The accountability index score that your school receives is based on the school’s performance in four priority areas:
- Student Achievement in reading and mathematics on state tests
- Student Growth measured by year-to-year improvements in achievement
- Closing Gaps in performance between specific student groups (comparing English language learners, low-income students, students with disabilities, and members of racial or ethnic group with their peers)
- On-track/Postsecondary Readiness, including graduation or attendance rates, reading and math achievement, and ACT participation and performance.
In addition, the School Report Card displays the school’s performance on three areas of student engagement:
1) In reading and mathematics state tests
2) Absenteeism Rate measuring chronic absenteeism
3) Dropout rate measuring the number of students dropping out of school
A school is placed into one of five ratings—based on its performance in the above areas—from Significantly Exceeds Expectations to Fails to Meet Expectations. The new statewide accountability system will include ways to spread effective practices of high-performing schools and support to help struggling schools improve. It is critical to note that the scores from one school or district are not to be used to make comparisons between schools and districts. The measures are meant to be used for planning and improvement purposes within a local school and district, not comparative purposes between schools and/or districts.
What does the “score” on the School Report Card mean? A school’s accountability score reflects many measures that factor into a school’s performance. The accountability score will help school staff determine what areas the school does well in and where it needs improvement. The School Report Card provides detailed information about the performance of student groups at the school, including racial groups, disability, poverty, and English language learners. It is important to note that the 0 to 100 accountability index score is not a “percent correct” measurement, so the scores are not the same as grades.” Again, the emphasis is on the attainment of growth from one year to the next with incremental gains related to changes in instructional practices, curriculum and the closing of gaps which may exist within schools in the district.
The School Report Card also presents a variety of general information and student demographic data. These types of information represent the type of data retrieved by your physician during a routine wellness exam. They include in this instance the following pieces of information: Grade levels contained in the school reported, total student enrollment, race/ethnicity information for the student body by percentage of overall enrollment, and percentages of total enrollment for students in various sub-groups including Students with Disabilities, Economically Disadvantaged pupils and those students who possess Limited English Proficiency. In the medical example presented above this information is not unlike height, weight, temperature, pulse/heart rate and blood pressure.
More diagnostic information similar to that gathered in a comprehensive physical examination provides the school/district with critical information for the student population as a whole as well as for smaller sub-groups of students. Additionally, student specific information is reported out through other sources that assist staff members in making decisions to assist individual students who might be in need of additional support. This is the data for which important decisions are currently being made to move the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District forward in this time of greater school accountability.
It is important to remember that the student test score results from this past fall are based upon a higher standard than in previous years. Also, caution needs to be exercised when making important decisions without looking at a longer timeframe as a clearer profile of student performance. Knowing that student learning and achievement is of paramount importance, however, the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District has expanded upon or recently implemented a number of curriculum and instructional changes to improve upon the overall accountability score and rating.
One critical decision made prior to the beginning of the new school year was the hiring of an administrator to serve as the first full-time Director of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum for the district. While not solely responsible for the growth in student achievement which is expected in the district, this individual will collaborate with building administrators, teachers and staff members to create a culture of academic excellence in our schools. Please look forward to reading about these changes and modifications for the
2014 – 2015 school year and beyond in the very near future.
Dr. Steven M. Bloom, Superintendent
Palmyra-Eagle Area School District