Elementary schools make grade on report cards

WBHS struggling to do as well; school board looks at issues like absenteeism, growth scores
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Officials at the elementary schools in the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District have much to be happy about, as both schools received four-star ratings that indicate they’re exceeding the expectations set by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in the annual report cards released in November.

However, the report cards also indicate that Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School is not meeting the standards, receiving only a two-star rating.

During the Nov. 20 Wittenberg-Birnamwood School Board meeting, district psychologist and data coordinator Kara Muthig pointed out that, as a district, Witt-Birn is meeting the standards with a score of 64.5. It is beating the state average in math with a score of 57.8, compared with the 57.2 Wisconsin average, but behind the average in English with a score of 58.3, almost two points lower than 60.1 for Wisconsin as a whole.

One area where the district is seeing a problem is in chronic absenteeism, where students are gone for 10% or more days out of the school year, with 17 or 18 days being the 10% threshold. According to the district’s report card, almost one in five students are absent for that length of time. Muthig said 163 students had chronic absenteeism last year.

Birnamwood Elementary-Middle School had the best score out of the three, getting a score of 72.1. In both English and math, test scores were well above the average at 64.5 and 68.8, respectively. The state average for K-8 schools was 59.4 in both categories.

“Birnamwood, they had good growth in most groups,” Muthig said. “A big part of our report card is based on growth, and that’s because our overall economically disadvantaged enrollment in the district is pretty high.”

Muthig noted that districts with fewer students in poverty were judged more on their achievement. Witt-Birn, however, with a majority of students meeting free and reduced meal benchmarks, was judged more on its growth — how much individual students improve in a single year — through all categories, whether ethnic or financial.

“We want our target groups to grow faster so they can catch up,” Muthig said.

Wittenberg Elementary-Middle School was not far behind Birnamwood with a score of 71.2. However, the school’s English and math test scores were lower than the state average at 53.4 and 54.1, respectively.

“The reason our scores are higher at the elementary schools is because we do well with the growth scores,” Muthig said. “We did well with growth in both buildings, so even our students who are not scoring well are growing fast, which is what we want to see.”

WBHS presented a score of 51.7, indicating the school was meeting few of the expectations set by DPI, but Witt-Birn is experiencing a similar trend to other school districts where the standards are easily met by elementary schools but prove much more difficult for secondary schools. In terms of the English and math scores, WBHS was lagging behind the state average with scores of 58.1 and 52.2. The state scores average 61.3 for English and 53 for math.

Muthig noted that the achievement scores at WBHS were close to the state average, but the school’s scores for growth and specific groups were not good, which might explain the low overall score. However, Muthig noted the criteria for the report cards is difficult for even the adult staff to understand, much less students and their families.

“I like this stuff, and it’s not always easy for me to understand,” Muthig said.

Board member Trevor Szutkowski noted that a lot of the focus for improvement seems to be on the lower quarter of students when the district should be looking at ways for improvement of all students, believing that’s the way to improve growth scores.

“We need to throw a much wider net than that,” Szutkowski said. “The score will come. We put a ton into that bottom 25%, do we not? We put a lot more into that bottom 25% in money and aids than that other 75%. We need to let those folks really achieve. It needs to be equal, I think.”

Superintendent Garrett Rogowski noted the district makes a concerted effort to make sure each grade knows what needs to be mastered by the end of the school year, but that communication is extending to families, as well.

“We let them know exactly what math facts need to be achieved at each grade level. Those are also going to be shared with parents in the grade-level readiness docs,” Rogowski said. “This shows how parents can help. That way, parents can engage exactly what’s being taught and what’s expected of their children.”

Board member Dan Stewart praised the process of examining the report card results and what needs to be done. The board spent almost two hours on the scores and measures for improvement.

“I think it’s brought a lot of awareness, and I think if we continue to put in the effort we put in it this year going forward, we just have to start improving,” Stewart said.