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RACINE — After receiving a failing grade on the state report card two years ago, Racine Unified held steady in 2017-18, its second straight year scoring “Meets Few Expectations.”

Unified’s overall score on the state report card for the 2017-18 school year — released to the public early Tuesday morning — was 58 out of 100, a slight decrease from the previous year’s 59.3. This leaves it in the category one step above the lowest, “Fails To Meet Expectations.”

“While we’d like to see growth, we know that we’re doing the right things and we’re going to keep moving forward,” said Stacy Tapp, the district’s chief of communications and community engagement.

Despite a lack of growth in its overall score, the district did see marked improvement at some of its schools and three of them — Walden III, Janes Elementary and Wadewitz Elementary — moved up to the “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” category. The district had no schools in that category last year.

“It’s really exciting for us as a district to be able to celebrate those three schools,” Tapp said.

Some other Unified schools saw decreases.

Although Goodland Elementary made just a small drop in 2017-18 to 51.1 from 52.8, the change means it “Fails To Meet Expectations.” Giese Elementary made a huge drop from 67.5 and “Meets Expectations” last year to 47.5, “Failing To Meet Expectations” this year.

The grades

District and school grades are based on a scale of 0-100, and are calculated by the Wisconsin Department of Public instruction using data from four priority areas: student achievement on standardized tests; school growth in achievement; closing achievement gaps between student groups; and measures of post-secondary readiness, which include graduation and attendance rates, third-grade English language arts achievement and eighth-grade math achievement.

The data used to calculate the district report cards comes from more than just last year. In some areas, data from as much as five years ago is factored into the calculations.

Statewide, 83.7 percent of rated schools — including private voucher schools — met or exceeded expectations, as did 96.4 percent of the state’s 422 public school districts.

Overall statewide, schools in 2017-18 increased their scores and no public districts were in the “Fails To Meet Expectations” category.

However, 95 schools in the state were in the failing category, including seven Unified schools, one more than last year.

Failing schools

Park and Horlick high schools and McKinley, Gilmore and Starbuck middle schools all received failing grades in 2017-18, as they did in the previous year. Knapp Elementary made a significant 16-point jump in its score, bringing it from the failing category to “Meets Few Expectations” in 2017-18. Giese Elementary made a significant change in the other direction, moving to the failing category in 2017-18 from “Meets Expectations” the previous year.

Out of the failing Unified schools, Horlick, Park, Starbuck and McKinley were all docked for their absenteeism rates, which DPI noted was an issue statewide this year. Three districts and 126 schools lost 5 points from their accountability scores in 2017-18 for missing the absenteeism target. Unified was not docked as a district for absenteeism.

High rates of absenteeism are generally associated with lower achievement.

“You have to be in school and be present to learn,” said Rosalie Daca, Unified’s chief academic officer.

Wendy Rowley, Unified’s executive director of accountability, said that to turn around absenteeism at those schools, the district must focus on the small group of students who are often absent to ensure they’re making it to school more often. Jacquelyn Moga, director of assessment and accountability at Unified, said the district has made a practice of reaching out to students on the cusp of high absenteeism to find out what Unified can do to help them get to school.

This is the third year for a new math curriculum in the district, the second year with new English language arts curriculum and the first year for new writing curriculum. Daca promised that the new curricula would yield positive results, given time. She offered Wadewitz’s grade this year as an example. In 2012, Wadewitz began using the new English curriculum the district implemented two years ago.

Economic status

Schools across the state that received low one- and two-star- ratings on report cards generally had higher rates of student poverty than other schools. In 2017-18, schools that were rated “Meets Few Expectations” had a large number of students from economically disadvantaged families, at 62 percent. Schools that failed to meet expectations had an even higher poverty rate, with an average of 78.4 percent. About 65 percent of Unified students are economically disadvantaged.

However, some of Unified’s best performing schools have a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students. They include Janes Elementary, at 94 percent; Wadewitz at 83 percent — both in the “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” category — and Julian Thomas Elementary, which scored at the upper end of “Meets Expectations” with 94 percent of its students economically disadvantaged.

Tapp said administrators look at these schools as models.

“If we can do it there, we can do it across the district,” Tapp said.

Moga said teachers at Wadewitz and Julian Thomas have made efforts to talk with students directly about their performance on various internal and external assessments and what they can do to improve. Daca said the staff at these schools are working together to get comfortable with the material they’re teaching.

Daca added that every day Moga and Rowley work with the schools to look at the data and to make sure they’re focusing on how to help each individual child.

“The staff is doing a really good job of drilling down to the student level,” Rowley said.

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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