Coulee Region Schools celebrated the release of the Wisconsin Department of Instruction’s annual district report cards last week.

Onalaska, Bangor, Holmen and West Salem school districts all exceeded state expectations under the state’s new grading system, which takes into account enrollment, racial diversity, students with disabilities and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Districts are scored based on their performance in four categories including student achievement, district growth, the ability to close achievement gaps and college readiness.

According to the DPI’s latest report, Onalaska scored the highest of any district in the county at 81.4 out of 100. Onalaska Director of Instructional Services Roger Fruit said the district is excited to use the data to improve the curriculum and help students succeed.

“We’re proud of the work that our students do,” he said, adding behind every student are a group of teachers and a community that is spending money to support their education. “There is a lot to celebrate and there’s a lot of room to improve.”

Fruit, while pleased with the results, questioned the usefulness of the report card for comparing school districts.

“It’s a good tool for schools and districts to analyze whats going on with student achievement,” Fruit said adding the DPI hasn’t refined its method enough to make accurate comparisons with other school districts.

“Until you get to an overall score of 100 you’re missing kids,“ he said.

The Bangor School District followed close behind Onalaska with the second highest score of 80.5 out of 100.

“We’re pleased with the results,” Superintendent Dave Laehn said, crediting the teachers for the district’s strong performance in the latest report. “Our teachers work really hard.”

Laehn echoed Fruits concerns saying the report card is just one measure of academic success the district uses to track student performance and educator effectiveness.

Holmen and West Salem didn’t fare any worse, tying with a score of 79.9 out of 100.

Holmen, however, made one of the largest gains when compared to last year’s scores. The district boosted its overall score by nearly three points to tie with West Salem.

Where Holmen made gains, West Salem, which significantly exceeded the state’s expectations on last year’s report card, was the only district slip backward. West Salem’s overall score fell four points from 83.9 to 79.9 out of 100.

This drop came as no surprise to West Salem Superintendent Troy Gunderson, who said the district still met its strategic goal of exceeding state expectations in all buildings.

“The DPI model favored school districts with fewer free or reduced (lunch) kids or special education students,” he said. “The way in which they were assigning a score was favoring people with demographics like us.”

As a result, West Salem received a higher score in its 2015-16 report card than other districts.

Gunderson said once the DPI had corrected its model to more appropriately accounted for these populations West Salem’s score fell closer to other districts in the county.

He said the district is looking at the results of the 2016-17 report card positively.

“The bottom line is it’s good for everyone,“ Gunderson said. “By counting it more appropriately, you can even the playing field for better comparison.”

According to the DPI, many school districts statewide experienced fluctuations in their scores.

“Many of the 2016-17 school and district report card scores have fluctuated since last year. These fluctuations appear in both overall scores and particularly in the growth priority area,” reads the DPI statement. “Although volatility in value-added scores may decrease with another year of Forward testing, score fluctuations are likely to continue, especially for smaller schools and districts.”

Laehn, however, expects these fluctuations to continue in Bangor.

Laehn said he said the district’s scores will likely rise and fall with student populations, despite the changes to how the DPI reports the data.

“You’d always like to say your results will be better next year, but in a small school it can fluctuate if one or two students do poorly,” he said.

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Coulee Courier reporter

Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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