MADISON, Wis. — Unusually high fluctuations in scores for more than 150 Wisconsin schools and two dozen districts threw into question their school report card results released Tuesday.
The scores of 162 schools and 24 districts were flagged for parents, teachers, community members and others who look them up. It is unclear whether the changes accurately reflect what happened or are the symptom of statistically volatility, state Department of Public Instruction officials said.
This is the second year for the current format of the report card that is issued for all 2,447 schools and 422 districts. The new report card came in 2016 after a one-year hiatus in reporting while the state transitioned from the Badger Exam to the Forward Exam and the Legislature made a host of other changes to how performance data is interpreted and reported.
Last year, the first of the new report card, education officials warned that the scores could not be compared with previous years because of changes in how they were calculated. Now this year they are issuing new caveats due to the fluctuations.
Education officials defended the annual score card as a meaningful tool to measure districts and individual schools, despite the ongoing raft of cautions.
"We'll get it," said state Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the Education Committee. "I just hope people don't throw up their arms and say 'forget report cards.' That's a serious mistake."
The swings of 10 points or more in overall and growth scores require anyone looking at the data of the affected schools or districts to dive deeper to get a better understanding of what is driving the large fluctuation, said Jeff Pertl, senior policy adviser at the Department of Public Instruction.
"It's not to say that their rating is not right," said Laura Pinsonneault, director of DPI's office of educational accountability. "It's to draw caution that there's been an outlier amount of change."
Volatility may decrease next year, the third under the current statewide test known as Forward, but the education department cautioned that fluctuations are likely to continue for small schools and districts and those with a high percentage of poor students.
State education officials said they were working with state policymakers, technical experts and stakeholders about how to address the problem. Any changes in how scores are calculated would require legislative action.
Olsen said he wanted to see what happens with next year's report card to determine whether there's a trend. If there continues to be a problem, Olsen said he would be open to the Legislature making changes to how scores are calculated in 2019.
The ratings are based on four areas: student achievement in English language arts and math; student growth; closing gaps between student groups; and measuring readiness for graduation and postsecondary success.
The vast majority — 82 percent of schools and 95 percent of public school districts — scored three or more stars, meaning they met or exceeded expectations. That's on par with last year when 82 percent of schools and 91 percent of districts met or exceeded expectations.
Of the 117 schools that received a failing grade, 17 were flagged for excessive fluctuation. Nearly 40 percent of the 117 schools — 46 — were in Milwaukee.