Janesville district officials smiling about latest state report cards

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

JANESVILLE—School officials are glowing over the second annual state report cards, released Tuesday.

The Janesville School District's overall rating was a 74.8 out of a maximum possible score of 100, which means the district “exceeds expectations,” according to the state's report card system.

That rating exceeds the overall ratings of all other Rock County districts and three other districts Janesville officials often use for comparisons—Madison, Sun Prairie and Verona.

Janesville also scored higher than many similarly sized districts around the state, including Appleton, Kenosha, Eau Claire, La Crosse and Sheboygan.

Superintendent Karen Schulte called the results “delightful.”

“We've been working very hard on that. We're extremely pleased,” Schulte said.

The report card results are just one more reason families—both foreign and domestic—might choose to send their children to school in Janesville, Schulte said.

Being the school district that people want their children to attend is one of the school board's goals, Schulte noted.

Director of instruction Kim Ehrhardt said the district hopes to move up from “exceeds expectations” to “significantly exceeds expectations” within five years.

“We want to be the best in the state. County is not good enough,” Schulte said.

Best in the state will take some doing. About 80 of the state's 425 school districts registered higher overall ratings. Those districts tend to be small, affluent or in areas with small minority populations.

Janesville officials acknowledge they have room for improvement, but they believe they are moving in the right direction.

All three of Janesville's middle schools, both high schools and most elementary schools improved their overall report card ratings from last year.

“The efforts we've made are certainly showing up,” Ehrhardt said.

The report cards rate schools and school districts to show whether they're doing a good job. Schools get a numerical rating on a scale of 1 to 100, and those numbers place schools in one of five categories, from the worst, “fails to meet expectations,” to the best, “significantly exceeds expectations.”

Those ratings are applied in four areas of performance, and those four scores are combined for an overall rating.

While the schools with the lowest average test scores continue to be in Janesville's high-poverty areas, officials can point to improvements over last year's report cards even in those schools. Wilson Elementary School is a prime example.

“I think one of our biggest wins is Wilson,” Ehrhardt said.

Wilson, in the city's poorest neighborhood, increased its overall rating by almost six points compared with last year.

Likewise, Jackson Elementary, also in a high-poverty area, increased its overall rating from “meets expectations” to “exceeds expectations.” 

Improving test scores requires a constant focus on what needs to be taught, coupled with coaching and monitoring of teachers' efforts by the principal, Ehrhardt said.

“They did a great job,” Ehrhardt said of the Wilson staff and Principal Kim Peerenboom.

Peerenboom said her staff redesigned the curriculum so what was taught more closely matched skills students needed, and teachers chose classroom strategies that were the most effective.

 “The teachers have risen above and beyond my expectations. They have put in a lot of hard work. They have stretched themselves. They have stepped forward and done a great job with the students,” Peerenboom said.

Students were held to high expectations, especially when it came to being able to explain how they arrived at an answer, Peerenboom said, so that “we knew for sure that they understood what they were doing.”

Students last year were not allowed to fail, Peerenboom said. If they didn't get it, teachers re-taught the material, and that has carried over to this year.

“Attitudes are different. They're excited about reading and writing and doing math,” Peerenboom said. … “The students' confidence levels have just soared here.”

Peerenboom expects more gains. “We're really excited,” she said. “We're building on last year's (test) data and plans. We know what Wilson students are capable of, and teachers and staff know what expectations are.”

Asked why this had not happened previously, Peerenboom said she is in her third year as principal, and it takes that long to put such changes in place.

Ehrhardt complimented the districtwide effort to prepare students for the tests, including the student-services staff, which he said works hard to make sure students attend school.

Schulte noted that the state recently named seven Janesville schools as “schools of recognition” for good test results despite significant levels of poverty.

“That's showing us that we are trending in the right direction,” Schulte said. “Why is that important? Because we want our students to have very solid schools so they can go to the college of their choosing, so they can do the work they want to do once they graduate.”

The district's charter schools were not included in this year's report cards because not enough students in those schools took the state tests, officials said.

Ehrhardt said he believes the district is on track to get ready for tougher state tests that are scheduled to debut in spring 2015.

Last updated: 12:12 pm Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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