Janesville50.8°

Test scores on right track

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 29, 2012
— The latest state tests show that Janesville's public schools are on the right track, the district's director of instruction said Wednesday.

But going from academic OK-ness to greatness—the district's stated goal—is going to be more of a marathon than a sprint, it appears.


Officials hailed last year's results on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams as a dramatic improvement.


Results this year are not so dramatic, said Director of Instruction Kim Ehrhardt, but the numbers show solid gains, especially at the elementary level.


"Parents and the Janesville community can be proud of our students' efforts associated with the WKCE," Superintendent Karen Schulte said in a news release. "At a time when the teaching staff is leaner and the budget is tighter, student learning has not been sacrificed, and achievement has remained front and center with our staff."


Officials are working to overcome many years in which test results hovered around the state average or even below it. Ehrhardt said recent efforts to standardize practices among all teachers and schools are paying off, and the district is starting to see results.


The state tests in reading and math are given in grades 3-8 and 10 each year. This year, the Janesville average at each grade level exceeded the state average except for eighth-grade reading.


Eighty-three percent of eighth-graders districtwide scored high enough to be considered proficient or advanced in reading. The state average was 84 percent.


Ehrhardt credited improvements to increased expectations for improved test performance and "a stronger fidelity to teaching the academic standards."


Educators at each school also are using test data to focus on specific weaknesses and use that knowledge to write annual improvement plans.


Educators review their plans regularly, so they can work toward their goals, rather than writing the plans and then shelving them, Ehrhardt said.


Some test results in some grades showed double-digit gains from the previous year, notably at Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Roosevelt, Van Buren and Washington elementary schools, Ehrhardt said.


The parts of the city with the lowest incomes, however, continue to struggle. Wilson Elementary School had particularly poor results, with only 46 percent of fourth-graders scoring as proficient or advanced in reading, for example. None of Wilson's reading results were over 59 percent.


Wilson's best result in math was 78 percent in third-grade math.


Ehrhardt said Wilson teachers did not embrace the new practices as well as new Principal Kimberli Peerenboom would have liked, but plans are in the works to change that.


Ehrhardt said poverty can make teaching more challenging, "but it doesn't mean you can't have the achievement. When you are more focused, you can overcome those social issues that can impact learning," he said.


The federal No Child Left Behind law sets a standard each year for what percentages are acceptable. This year, it's 87 percent for reading and 79 percent in math. The target percentages have steadily increased, with the goal of every school eventually reaching 100 percent, something that experts have always said was impossible.


Those targets may disappear later this spring. The state has applied for a waiver from the rules so that it can begin an alternative accountability system.


The federal government is likely to approve the waiver, and the new system will apply to this year's results, said a spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction.



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