West Allis - Central High School and an elementary school that had been one of the strongest in West Allis both got grades of "F" on the latest round of statewide report cards, leaving school officials with a lot of questions.
The elementary school is Madison Elementary that went from exceeding expectations on the state evaluation last time around to failing in 2015-16. The comparison is with the 2013-14 because the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issued no report cards in 2014-15.
"Madison was always a top school," said West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board member and former board president Pat Kerhin. "You have to wonder what is wrong in that score," she said, tending to suspect that changes in the testing itself could have played a significant role.
Indeed, the tests and evaluation formula were changed from the last time report cards were issued. However, it's difficult to say how the changes affected West Allis-West Milwaukee, as some school districts such as Muskego-Norway had better scores on this report card.
The report cards, started five years ago, are intended to offer a better picture of how well individual schools prepare students to graduate ready for college or career.
Overall scores are based on four priority areas, each with its own rating of 0 to 100. Scores of 100 to 83 are significantly exceeds expectations, 82.9 to 73 exceeds expectations, 72.9 to 63 meets expectations, 62.9 to 53 meets few expectations, and 52.9 to 0 fails to meet expectations.
Each school and the entire school district get an individual score. The West Allis-West Milwaukee School District met expectations, with a score of 65.3. Of the district's 17 schools, eight met expectations. Four met few expectations, two failed. On the up side, two exceeded expectations and one significantly exceeded expectations, achieving the highest grade possible.
The four intermediate schools split two and two with two meeting few expectations and two meeting expectations. The two that met few expectations are West Milwaukee and Lane intermediate schools. The intermediate schools that met expectations were Lincoln and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Of note is that 10 of the 17 schools scored better two years ago, although officials in other school districts have said it is somewhat risky to compare the outcomes, due to the changes that were made.
The four areas on which the scores are based are: Whether students are working at their grade level in reading and mathematics on state tests; whether student scores improve from year to year in reading and math; whether some groups of students such as those who are still learning English or who are from low-income homes are keeping up with other groups and how well the schools are doing to close any gaps that exist among student groups in English, math and graduation rates; and finally, whether students are on track for post-high school success, whether that be college or work.
Schools and districts are also evaluated on their statewide test participation rates, chronic absenteeism rates, and dropout rates. Points are deducted in those areas. Central had 10 points deducted for test participation and absenteeism.
Board member Dan Bailey said a critical question needs to be answered as far as teachers go: "What do they have to have on their tool belt that we're not giving them?"
Asked his reaction to the sharp decline at Madison Elementary School, Bailey said, "I think you would have to look at the structure in school and how quickly we react if we see a child going downhill."
Over the years, the schools have tried many things to improve performance, even with the help of a consultant, but those efforts seem to be failing, he said.
Bailey also said blaming poverty is a poor excuse. Children coming from poor homes can be taught as evidenced by many people such as presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson who rose from poverty, Bailey said.
Asked if West Allis-West Milwaukee is a district in trouble, Kerhin said, "It's a district in transition," with a still new superintendent and administrative team and new state tests.
Bailey said, "It's a district that keeps saying we're working on it, but I think it's a district that keeps changing and doesn't stick with something solid."
In a news release on the report cards, the district maintains there is more to the story. That full story includes classroom assessments that are routinely used to monitor student progress and guide teaching. The schools use the Measures of Academic Progress system of testing, plus teacher tests, performance tasks, and other indicators to help teachers focus on improvement, the release says.
"These indicators provide much more powerful and timely feedback about the impact of our improvement efforts," it says.
In defending Central's performance on the report cards, Beth Kohler, chief advancement officer, said in an email, "Even though the report card score indicates that Central fails to meet expectations, it is not a failing school."
"The report card does not measure all of the factors that lead to student success and it does not consider the types of interventions and programs schools put in place to improve," she wrote.
The academic measures focus only on performance in math and English on standardized tests.
"Central also continues to offer advanced placement classes (that can lead to college credit) and Project Lead The Way for pre-engineering students," Kohler wrote.
To help students having difficulty, Central recently instituted a program providing skills for academic success and offering intensive support with tutorials and strong student/teacher relationships. The program, known as Advancement Via Individual Determination or AVID, develops a sense of hope for personal achievement gained through hard work, Kohler wrote.
12 failed in some way
The report cards also show that 12 of the district's 17 schools failed to meet expectations in one or more of the four aspects that were evaluated. The schools had the most trouble with narrowing the achievement gaps among groups of students and showing growth in math and English scores.
The schools that failed in one or more of the four elements of the evaluation are Central, all four intermediate schools, Franklin, Hoover, Horace Mann, Irving, Longfellow, Madison and Mitchell elementary schools.
The school that took the second biggest tumble after Madison was Horace Mann Elementary School. It was judged outstanding as exceeding expectations on the report card two years ago, but fell to meets few expectations with this report card.
The 2015-16 report card results are:
West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, meets expectations, with a score of 65.3
Nathan Hale High School, meets expectations, with a score of 65.4
Central High School, fails to meet expectations, with a score of 48.9
Frank Lloyd Wright, meets expectations, with a score of 63.4
Lincoln, meets expectations, with a score of 63
West Milwaukee, meets few expectations, with a score of 60.9
Lane, meets few expectations, with a score of 60.6
Walker, significantly exceeds expectations, with a score of 86.9
Jefferson, exceeds expectations, with a score of 77.6
Wilson, exceeds expectation, with a score of 75.3
Pershing, meets expectations, with a score of 70.6
Hoover, meets expectations, with a score of 67.1
Franklin, meets expectations, with a score of 66.1
Mitchell, meets expectations, with a score of 65.7
Irving, meets expectations, with a score of 63.5
Longfellow, meets few expectations, with a score of 59.9
Horace Mann, meets few expectations, with a score of 58.6
Madison, fails to meet expectations, with a score of 46.6