The MacIver Institute District Report Card takes an innovative look at the Wisconsin’s fifty largest public school districts and offers a vigorous analysis and traditional letter grading system in this unique analysis. It rates districts across several different measures to create a comprehensive look at how teachers and administrators are performing in their schools. The Report Card goes beyond the typical parochial comparison of neighboring communities to also focus on how children compete on a global level. With a dynamic global economy perpetually in front of us, a broader focus was needed to better understand how our districts stack up across many metrics.
The Report Card takes into account not only how a student is testing, but also how likely a district is to push their students to achieve more. The state has recently increased graduation requirements to include more coursework and more challenging classes. This metric works to gauge the progress that has been made in those departments. Finally, the MI District Report Card factors in a student’s basic background to better understand the challenges that a school district may face and their effectiveness as a result. Educating students from low-income families, as well as other students that have traditionally been difficult to teach, is critically important to the future of Wisconsin.
These rankings go beyond what standardized testing tells us. They take a closer look inside the classroom and assign grades based on achievement, attainment, and student population. Districts that have higher percentages of low-income and limited English proficiency (LEP) students, two factors that are traditionally linked to lower scores on state testing measures, earn extra points to address this greater degree of difficulty for their teachers.
The goal behind these rankings was to create a basic, but wide-ranging, program to gauge the performance of Wisconsin’s public school districts. The hope is that by creating a level playing field in district-to-district comparisons across the state, parents and policymakers will be able to use these rankings to demand more of their school districts. Several metrics were used to create an aggregate rating system. This includes:
- Global Report Card performance (math and reading)
- WSAS (WKCE) performance – 4th grade reading
- WSAS (WKCE) performance – 8th grade mathematics
- ACT scores and participation
- AP scores and participation
- Four-year graduation rate
- District attendance
- Concentration of students from economically disadvantaged families
- Concentration of students with limited English proficiency (LEP)
In our first year of data collection, Elmbrook School District led the pack of the 50 largest school districts in the state. Marshfield, New Berlin, and Verona joined the Elmbrook at the top by earning “A” grades. Racine and Milwaukee were the only districts to earn failing grades.
Table 1: The top five and bottom five performing districts amongst Wisconsin's 50 largest school districts.
Many of the highest performing districts have strong combinations of academic performance and achievement, solid graduation rates and students with a propensity to continue education after high school, and a diverse student body. The breakdowns of these three categories are below:
Table 2: Wisconsin districts with the highest levels of student achievement (Global Report Card, WSAS, AP testing and participation).
|4||Marshfield Unified||Wood||4,038||A -||$11,719|
Table 3: Wisconsin districts with the highest levels of educational attainment (ACT scores/participation and four-year graduation rates).
|4||Middleton-Cross Plains Area||Dane||6,104||A-||$13,145|
Table 4: Wisconsin districts with the highest concentrations of poor attendance, students from economically disadvantaged families, and students with limited English proficiency.
|3||Green Bay Area Public||Brown||20,376||n/a||$12,710|
The school districts with the strongest academic performances lead the first two individual categories and have enough of an advantage when it comes to the overall rankings. While the multipliers for student population factors help to temper these performances, many of the highest-scoring districts have enough of an edge to not be significantly affected by this curve. Table 4 shows us that some of Wisconsin’s biggest districts also house a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged and LEP students that traditionally are more difficult to educate.
There is a large range of funding amounts per student between each district. Schools in the top five overall range from $11,719 per pupil to $14,409 per pupil. In the bottom five, this span slides from $11,250 to $14,863.
The research presented in these rankings is purely observational data provided to help Wisconsinites better understand not only how a district is performing, but the difficulties that they face every year. Comparing Milwaukee to Elmbrook is an apples-to-apples matchup only in their relationship as educating authorities. This rating system attempts to balance out the effects of a dynamic student body and create a more level playing field for comparison.
What is the end result of this ranking system? It is a more comprehensive look at the districts that educate over 59 percent of Wisconsin’s public school students. Some districts rose; others sunk. The majority fell right inside the C/C+ range. The true value here will be to track how, over time, these districts perform in the face of sweeping reform in the 2012-2013 school year.
One conclusion is clear from our data analysis. There is no direct correlation between average dollars spent per student and the quality of the school districts as a whole. It's a revelation that is sure to displease many in the educational establishment who regularly make the case for increased expenditures as the key to improving quality. The performance we see in the state's largest districts suggest that other factors play a greater role than funding alone.
Click on the map above for district snapshots.
Ranking the 50 Largest Wisconsin School Districts
|2||Marshfield Unified||Wood||4,038||7.8272||A -||$11,719|
|3||New Berlin||Waukesha||4,687||7.8196||A -||$12,706|
|4||Verona Area||Dane||4,889||7.8061||A -||$13,790|
|5||Middleton-Cross Plains Area||Dane||6,104||7.5971||B +||$13,145|
|10||D C Everest Area||Marathon||5,646||7.2016||B -||$11,917|
|11||Kettle Moraine||Waukesha||4,367||7.1764||B -||$12,231|
|12||Hudson||Saint Croix||5,530||7.1609||B -||$10,646|
|13||Sheboygan Area||Sheboygan||10,124||7.0679||B -||$13,254|
|14||Green Bay Area Public||Brown||20,376||7.0528||B -||$12,710|
|15||Madison Metropolitan||Dane||24,806||7.0500||B -||$14,104|
|17||Sun Prairie Area||Dane||6,975||7.0003||C +||$12,623|
|18||West Allis-West Milwaukee||Milwaukee||8,976||6.9340||C +||$12,427|
|19||Oak Creek-Franklin Joint||Milwaukee||6,146||6.9038||C +||$11,144|
|22||Eau Claire Area||Eau Claire||10,914||6.8635||C +||$12,496|
|23||Holmen||La Crosse||3,767||6.8476||C +||$12,946|
|24||La Crosse||La Crosse||6,932||6.8375||C +||$14,620|
|25||Stevens Point Area Public||Portage||7,401||6.8326||C +||$12,595|
|31||Fond du Lac||Fond du Lac||7,365||6.7743||C||$12,540|
|40||Pulaski Community||Brown||3,792||6.6472||C -||$11,654|
|41||Chippewa Falls Area Unified||Chippewa||5,028||6.6038||C -||$11,014|
|42||Wisconsin Rapids||Wood||5,533||6.5599||C -||$12,541|
|43||De Pere||Brown||3,976||6.5275||C -||$12,141|
|48||Watertown Unified||Jefferson||3,951||6.0568||D -||$11,600|
The MIDRS uses several different measures of student achievement and school outcomes. It then takes these results and assigns multipliers based on the student population that teachers are educating within a district. These student-based multipliers create a curve related to factors like English proficiency and family poverty.
Student populations vary significantly across Wisconsin. It’s no surprise that classrooms in Milwaukee and Verona have pupils from very different backgrounds behind their desks. Traditionally, children from economically disadvantaged families have recorded lesser results when it comes to measuring their educational progress. There is a similar effect with students with limited English proficiency.
Taking these two factors into account is a very basic tool by which to understand the makeup of a classroom. However, it also gives us a better idea of how the challenges may differ from district to district. These multipliers account for the extra effort that goes on to reach more difficult students. Rather than penalizing districts for working with students who often struggle with testing measures that don’t adequately measure growth, this multiplier system is a method that more accurately gauges the educational progress within a classroom.
In simple terms, these factors help create a basic “degree of difficulty” measurement that gauges the challenges that teachers and administrators may face in a district. This is not a comprehensive measurement of difficulties in the classroom. Rather, it is a metric that exists to help the public better understand the differences between districts and how they may affect achievement in the classroom.
These multipliers are applied to a series of measures that gauge student performance across public schools. This ranges from metrics in elementary school (WSAS and Global Report Card rankings) all the way through high school (ACT performance and graduation rates).
There are three major components to these district rankings. They are Student Achievement (how students are performing in the classroom), Student Attainment (how many students are graduating from high school and potentially moving on to higher education opportunities), and Student Population (what the makeup of a district’s student body is). All three have a significant effect on how a district runs and serves its students. Combined, they give us the data we need to create a more comprehensive observation than just simple test results.
These data collection methods aren’t ideal. They only gauge how a student is performing rather than the progress and growth that student has made over time. However, without true value-added testing data readily available in Wisconsin, these figures – most of which come from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) – still give us the tools we need to paint an overall picture of how districts are performing in the state.
Paired with the student multipliers, this data can give us a better idea not only of whose students are performing the best, but whose teachers face the biggest challenges. Schools and classrooms across Wisconsin are not created equally. The difficulties faced in Superior are very difference than the difficulties an administration may have in Menomonee Falls. The MIDRS attempts to account for that and create a metric that counts student achievement, attainment, and background.
The results of the first iteration of the rankings are limited to only the 50 largest districts in Wisconsin. This covers 453,463 students – 59.3 percent of the state’s 764,913 public school pupils. These districts earn a number figure from the formula that calculates student achievement data and student population multipliers. These figures coordinate with an A-F letter grading system similar to those used in schools across the state.
In the first round of these grades, only four of the 50 districts (eight percent) earned “A” grades. Just two earned failing grades (Milwaukee and Racine). The top ten districts in the rankings all had enrollments of between 4,034 and 7,212 students. Some of the state’s largest cities struggled, while others like Madison, Green Bay, and Sheboygan earned strong rankings thanks to relatively solid test scores and diverse student populations.
The data used to create these rankings is included below. A white-paper version of this work will be available for online download shortly. This information is also presented in map form for easier viewing here.
Students in Wisconsin’s 50 largest districts were measured by their performances on three different metrics. The first was the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Global Report Card, which compared math and reading scores to countries across the globe to give us a better understanding of which districts are competitive on a worldwide level. Each district was given a math and reading score based on 2007 state testing figures. While this data is a bit outdated, it still provides an opportunity for Wisconsinites to stack up their local schools against those in other countries.
The second measure was the most recent testing data from the Wisconsin Student Assessment System. The WSAS is the combination of the state’s annual standardized test, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) and supplemental testing such as the Wisconsin Alternate Assessments (WAA). The combination of the exams creates a baseline understanding of how a school, district, or county’s students are performing in a given year. However, this data does not tell us how much progress a student has made, it only creates a snapshot of their current status.
In the 2012 MIDRC, figures from fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade mathematics were used. They measured the percentage of students in a district that scored “proficient” or above in these subjects. The figures in each subject were then combined to create an overall score for WSAS testing.
Finally, Advanced Placement (AP) exams played a key role in determining a district’s student achievement score. Districts were measured by the percentage of students taking the test as well as the number of students passing it. These two factors were combined to create a weighted score that rewarded not just the schools that did well on AP exams, but also those that were able to recruit a greater number of their high school students to attempt the test.
This metric was one that could have been placed in either student achievement or student attainment since it relates closely to higher education. However, since it relates directly to student performance at the high school level, it was grouped in with the former category.
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Wisconsin’s students were also measured by the ability not only to graduate from high school, but also the probability that they would go on to pursue a higher education degree. For that, we looked at average ACT scores (the preferred college readiness test in the Badger State) and also the percentage of students in each district who were taking the test. When we combined the two measurements, we got a figure that describes the student attainment rankings within the state’s 50 largest districts, shown below.
Attainment scores were based on ACT results and four-year graduation rates. The four-year rate follows students from their freshman to senior years and counts all students that receive their diplomas on time or earlier. The majority of Wisconsin’s public school districts posted positive results when it came to graduation rates.
ACT results gave us a better idea of how many of these students plan to attend college. We measured these ACT results by average score and the percentage of students tested, combining the two to create a deeper look at these data. When multiplied through by four, this created a weighted figure similar to the other numbers used in the rankings system. This gives ACT performance a similar weight to measures of student achievement and gives us balance from component to component of the rankings.
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The final measure in the MIDRC was the student makeup of a district. Traditionally, students from low-income backgrounds often have lower scores on traditional testing measures. The same can be said for students that come from non-English speaking backgrounds. These outside factors can play a significant role in the classroom, but low test scores do not necessarily mean that the district is failing these students.
In order to better account for the students that are more difficult to traditionally educate, the MIDRC includes score multipliers to balance out the effect that these students may have in the classroom. To do this, we turned to Department of Public Instruction data. The state provides information that shows us the percentage of students come from “economically disadvantaged” backgrounds. These are students that qualify for Federal Free or Reduced Price meals at school. DPI also provides data on how many students in that district speak English as a second language. These Limited English Proficiency pupils (LEP) make up the second multiplying factor in determining a district’s overall score.
In order to create a balanced multiplier that awards “degree of difficulty” points for the districts that take on more diverse populations of difficult-to-educate students, we took each of these measures and created a multiplying factor to account for testing deficiencies. In our first iteration, this multiplier was simply the FRL or LEP figure divided by two. Therefore, a district with 24 percent of its students coming from an economically disadvantaged background would earn an 16 percent overall boost when it comes to its final score.
This factor was chosen as a median figure that not only helped to normalize some of the figures, but also because it applied across the three major categories. A higher multiplier would skew results too strongly towards underachieving districts. A lower one would give us little insight beyond what achievement and attainment have already told us.
Finally, we also added attendance as a measure of student progress. Overall, districts with higher daily attendance rates were rewarded for keeping children in the classroom. However, as a measure of student population and which schools face the biggest problems, lower attendance actually led to a higher score. It stands to reason that districts with high absenteeism rates would have greater difficulty in producing high scores on traditional testing methods.
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Appendix A: Simplified Spreadsheet Including All Ranking Data
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