New Report Cards Show Wisconsin Schools Need Improvement

Accountability Report Cards Unveiled 

Average Schools Rate Out at a “C” in Student Achievement

By Christian D’Andrea

MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

The Department of Public Instruction released their Wisconsin Public School Report Cards on Monday, detailing each of the state’s public institutions’ performance over the past year. While the results were solid for some schools, the state as a whole rated out towards the lower end of the newly developed standards.

Wisconsin’s schools earned the equivalent of a “C” grade or lower in eight of the 11 categories in this new school accountability system. Each school was graded as a separate entity to give parents and community members a better idea of how their local schools are performing. These scores were later totaled up to find the statewide average in elementary, middle and high schools across Wisconsin.

Schools were rated across four categories: Student Achievement, Student Growth, Closing Gaps, and On-Track and Postsecondary Readiness. Three other measurements – attendance, dropout, and participation rates – were also used as penalizing factors in the overall grade.

On average, the standard Wisconsin public school scored 66.5 points in student achievement in its high schools. The results were approximately the same in K-5 elementary schools and middle schools. That put the state’s institutions on the lower end of the “Meets Expectations” category thanks to lagging scores in both reading and mathematics achievement.


If we were to transfer these grades to fit a standard A-F program like these schools apply to their students, that would put the state’s public schools somewhere in the C-/C category when it comes to basic achievement in the classroom. It’s important to note that the state does not use A-F grades to measure their schools, just the number grades listed above. Instead, we will use these corresponding marks to create simpler comparisons when it comes to schools and the school accountability grading process.


While these marks got slightly better in student growth for K-5 students, the state’s middle school pupils saw a significant lapse in their grade, checking in at just 55 points and a grade in the lower spectrum of “Meets Few Expectations.” Data were not available for high school students at this time. While these figures are disappointing, they stand to improve in coming years. Once educators and institutions become more familiar with this new accountability program, students should be able to make greater gains. That would raise these student growth scores significantly if their schools can take advantage of the program.


These grades stayed in the C-/C average when it came to closing achievement gaps. The three major components of this rating were gaps in reading and math achievement, along with the fluctuation of graduation rates between different student groups.


Finally, the state saw its best performance when it came to preparing students for future educational opportunities and life after high school. This category gauged several measurements across different levels of education like graduation rates, attendance, third grade reading achievement, eighth grade math achievement, and ACT participation and performance. A strong graduation rate, along with a proposed switch to statewide, mandatory ACT testing in grades 9-11 should help keep these grades on the higher end of the spectrum moving forward. Conversely, a switch away from the WKCE and to more stringent standards in earlier grades will temper that growth.

Schools aren’t off the hook even after these four scores are totaled up. Wisconsin’s public institutions also have to meet three more goals in order to avoid deductions that could have a major impact on their final scores. Schools must meet benchmarks in test participation (more than 95 percent), absenteeism (less than 13 percent), and dropout rates (less than six percent) in order to avoid penalties that will cost an institution five points for each infraction.

The scores were broken down into five categories that denote how schools are meeting – or failing to meet – the expectations experts agreed upon in last year’s school accountability planning sessions. The grading is done on a 0-100 scale and incorporates themes like math and reading achievement, ACT participation, attendance, and preparing students for life after graduation. Here’s what the basic metric looks like:


The end result is the first piece of an accountability program that will grade schools based on their output across these different categories. These marks should garner even more meaning as time goes on. The adoption of NAEP and Common Core directives will help hold Wisconsin’s students to a higher standard and help give us a better idea of just how ready these pupils are for life after high school.

The introduction of these report cards is a step forward for parents across the Badger State. The state has created a more comprehensive tool to grade neighborhood schools and compare them with others across towns, districts, and Wisconsin. This first iteration shows us that these schools have room for improvement. While it’s important that we commend the institutions that did well, we now also have to take a closer look at how to fix the schools scored poorly.