Of the 75,766 students in the district, more than half – 42,421 –are in schools rated as “fails to meet expectations” or “meets few expectations.” Forty-two schools serving 24,447 students are ranked as “fails to meet expectations.”
“The moral of the story, the short answer here, MPS should hold off on the confetti,” said Will Flanders, education research director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, in an interview Thursday. “The report card change helped pull them out of failing status but there are still big problems.”
The state Department of Public Instruction compiles an annual report card for every school and every district. Schools and school districts are graded, from highest to lowest:
Significantly Exceeds Expectations
Meets Few Expectations
Fails to Meet Expectations.
The districts and the schools also are given a number of stars, with five stars for Significantly Exceeds Expectations and just one star for Fails to Meet Expectations.
The report cards access schools and school districts on four areas: student achievement in English language arts and mathematics, student growth, closing gaps between student groups, and measures of readiness for graduation and postsecondary success. A score from zero to 100 is assigned and that determines the district’s grade.
For the 2015-16 school year, the state changed the report card to take into account the poverty in the district as well as student growth. The change lifted MPS from last year’s “fails to meet expectations” to “meets few expectations,” and the district avoided having any schools eligible for a state-imposed turnaround school district, the Opportunity Schools Participation Program.
This is also the first year schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program are included in the state’s report cards. Because there are no previous scores for comparison, the voucher schools did not receive any ratings from DPI.
“There’s so many things you can’t do with (racial achievement) gap closure and growth and other things that are a big part of the report card,” said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin. “Unfortunately we have to wait until next year to get a calculated score.”
MPS celebrated 50 schools moving up a category. Twenty-four Milwaukee public schools exceed or significantly exceed expectations.
“We believe these report cards better reflect the performance in our schools,” said MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver in a statement. “We still have significant work to do, but we are headed in the right direction. I am proud of the hard work of our students, teachers, staff and families. We are seeing growth in student achievement and closing the academic gap.”
Hold the applause, Flanders said.
“Forty-two schools failing to meet expectations is really unacceptable,” he said. “For a school district to be celebrating today as a victory, they don’t quite have their priorities straight.”
Bender questions if there has been any real change at MPS that would lift them from “failing to meet expectations” to “meeting few expectations.”
“I think MPS should be careful about touting success,” Bender said. “The calculation of the report card relays a different set of data, but that doesn’t mean the conditions on the ground have changed.”
Statewide the results were a little better.
“More than 82 percent of public schools and 91 percent of districts earned three or more stars on the state’s 2015-16 report cards, meaning they met or exceeded expectations for educating students,” according to DPI.
However, 99 schools serving 53,044 students total statewide failed to meet expectations. Another 243 schools with 112,675 students are rated as meeting few expectations.
Five school districts, the Racine Unified School District (RUSD), Cassville, Cambria-Friesland, Menominee Indian and Bayfield are rated as failing to meet expectations. The districts combined have 21,301 students, but Racine has over 19,000 of those students. RUSD has 11 schools with 9,605 students in schools rated as failing to meet expectations.
“This adds to the logic for why we need a vibrant voucher program there,” Flanders said. “It’s not just a Milwaukee problem. The poor school problem is a problem across the state.”
Bender said that while the report cards are useful, the ratings are still subjective.
“Any ranking system is subjective by nature,” Bender said. “Regardless of how DPI sets their ranking metrics, for decades parents have been looking for alternatives which is why the voucher system continues to grow.”
While the report cards provide a snapshot of performance, DPI cautions they are “not comparable to report cards issued in prior years and do not represent a full picture of the important work taking place in schools throughout the state.”
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