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The Wauwatosa School District earned four out of five stars on the 2015-16 school report cards issued by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. The overall score of 77.4 placed the district into the "exceeds expectations" category.

"There are a lot of things to be proud of," Wauwatosa Superintendent Phil Ertl said. "But I am cautious of whether it is a good measure of what we are achieving with our kids."

Ertl said he does feel good about the fact that the district has closed the achievement gap between white students and minority students. A measure of this progress is the 1 percent difference in the graduation gap between the two groups, one of the lowest gaps in the state. In recent years the district has focused specifically on closing the gap and increasing equality when it comes to enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, an indicator of college success for district graduates.

"Over the past 10 years our diversity has increased," Ertl said. "Our focus is on all students and making sure the environment is about every student. We have really made some progress in that area."

Ertl added that he would like to have achievement gaps be a smaller part of the conversation and was hopeful that someday the subject would fade into the background.

There are 7,192 students in the district and, according to the DPI report, 34.6 percent of them are in a category other than white or Caucasian; 26.3 percent qualify as economically disadvantaged.

"It's a public document," Ertl said. "Our real focus is on helping our students improve and helping kids to succeed."

Incomplete picture

In a news release the district stated that while school and district report cards provide information to the community, they do not represent a full picture of the work happening at a school. They say the report cards are a snapshot of the work.

In addition, the DPI advises against drawing comparisons between the 2015-16 report card ratings and previous years’ ratings due to significant changes in the 2015-16 report cards that were part of the 2015-17 state budget.

The release further states that the report cards rely on multiple years of data but the 2015-16 report cards are based on one year each of Badger and Forward exams for grades three through eight and the ACT Plus Writing as well as Dynamic Learning Maps assessments in grades three through eight and grade 11.

The third year of data came from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam and Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities.

"Using data from three different assessments in calculations, along with other legislated changes, makes comparisons of school and district performance to prior report card ratings inaccurate and inadvisable," the district said.

Report cards

As part of the state accountability system the DPI produces report cards for every district and school in Wisconsin. These Accountability Report Cards include data on multiple indicators for multiple years across four priority areas:

  • Student achievement: performance on the state reading and mathematics tests
  • Student growth: improvement over time on the state reading and mathematics tests
  • Closing gaps: progress of student subgroups in closing gaps in reading and mathematics performance and/or graduation rates
  • On-track and postsecondary readiness: performance on key indicators of readiness for graduation and postsecondary pursuits, whether college or career

Performance on three Student Engagement Indicators is also reported. These three indicators affect student success and school effectiveness.

  • Test participation rate, with a goal of 95 percent test participation for all students and each subgroup
  • Absenteeism rate, with a goal of 13 percent or less
  • Dropout rate, with a goal of 6 percent or less. 

A district's or school’s overall accountability score places the district or school into one of five categories:

0-52.9: Fails to meet expectations

53-62.9: Meets few expectations

63-72.9: Meets expectations

73-82.9: Exceeds expectations

83-100: Significantly exceeds expectations

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