The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released its annual school report cards earlier this week and the School District of Rhinelander once again achieved a "meets expectations" grade as a district, as did all of its individual public schools.
Two elementary schools received "exceeds expectations" grades, according to the DPI report.
Rachel Hoffman, the district's director of teaching, learning and technology, said the improved scores, with James Williams Middle School falling just short of "exceeds expectations," are a sign that the district's efforts over the past several years are paying off.
"We have been working hard, I would say, the last five years," Hoffman said. "There have been a lot of changes that have been put in place to really help set the stage for this. Just like anything in a school district or anywhere, we put things in place, but it takes time. Sometimes we want immediate results, but we know that's just not the way things work. We need to let things have a little bit of time to work through and we have to make sure that they're having positive effects, and that's kind of where we are right now."
According to the information released by the DPI, Rhinelander's district-wide grade improved slightly from a 66.3 grade to 68. This is the third consecutive year the district grade has improved, as it was 61.8 during the 2016-17 school year. The district recorded a 66.5 in 2015-16. The 2016-17 score was the only school year of the four where the district's overall grade ranked in the "meets few expectations" category.
Districts and schools are graded on a 0-100 scale, which then translates into a star rating system.
Schools that are graded between zero to 52.9 percent are considered to be failing to meet expectations. This results in a one-star rating. To earn two stars, otherwise known as the "meets few expectations" category, a district or school must score between 53 and 62.9 percent. "Meets expectations," or three stars, is given to schools and districts that score between 63 and 72.9 percent. To reach the "exceeds expectations" or four-star rating, schools and districts must reach a score of between 73 to 82.9 percent. Those schools and districts that score 83 to 100 percent are significantly exceeding expectations and receive a five-star rating.
Two elementary schools - Pelican and Northwoods Community Elementary School - each scored "exceeds expectations' grades for the 2018-19 school year. This marks the fourth straight year at that grade level for Pelican and the third for NCES.
The numerical score for each of the schools declined slightly from last year, with Pelican dropping from a 77.5 to 73.4 while NCES dropped from 77 to 73.9.
Crescent Elementary School also saw a decline, falling from a 71 on last year's report cards to a 65.8 this year.
Hoffman wasn't concerned with the dip in the grades for those three schools, as 2018 was the last year that elementary schools couldn't fully measure growth over 4K through grade 5 because students in grades 4 and 5 were sent to Central in its former role as an intermediate school.
"Those two schools that dropped slightly had some pretty high scores," Hoffman said.
The rest of the schools in the district, as well as the overall district score, showed improvement. James Williams Middle School made the biggest gains, going from 66.5 to 72.3 this year. Central Elementary went from 67.7 to 71.8 and the district as a whole moved from 63.1 to 65.2.
JWMS's score was just .7 from seeing it joining Pelican and NCES in the "exceeds expectations" category.
Hoffman said a change in the standardized tests and grading formula used to measure student achievement a couple years ago, which was reflected in the scores for the 2016-17 scores, had finally stabilized.
"That was a year that we didn't do as well as we would have liked, because in 2016-17 overall we had the district, the middle school and the high school meeting few expectations," Hoffman said. "So just in three years, we've made the jump to all of our schools at least meet expectations, with two still exceeding."
She also noted the growth in the overall district score, which increased 7.2 points over the last three school years.
"We definitely know there is more room to improve, but we're happy to see that we're making that growth," Hoffman said. "If we continue to see this growth, we'll solidly be up into that exceeds expectations (ranking) in just a few years if we keep on pace with what we're doing right now."
Now that the district has made the switch back to the 4K-5th grade model, Hoffman predicts that the scores for all four elementary schools will rise, which will also drive the district score upward. This is because student growth from one grade level to another will be measured in all four schools.
"Anytime we can include the growth of our students, alongside the achievement, that is when we can have some pretty dramatic increases because we know our kids are growing at a pretty good rate," Hoffman said. "Very close to, or in some instances, it's getting pretty close to the state level or exceeding it in different places."
Hoffman said the improved scores for JWMS and RHS are the result of increasing the time of instruction for math and English classes and a change in curriculum.
She noted the math scores for JWMS exceeded the state average in the categories of school growth and closing the mathematics achievement gap.
Hoffman is scheduled to brief the Board of Education on the report card results at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the Superior Diesel Advanced Learning Center at Rhinelander High School.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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