Two Janesville schools need to close achievement and attendance gaps between black students and the rest of the student body in their schools, and two other schools need to close the same gaps between students with disabilities and their peers statewide, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

Craig High School and Marshall Middle School need “targeted support and improvement” to close the gaps for black students, the report said. Adams Elementary School and Edison Middle School need “targeted support and improvement” to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Other area schools identified as needing targeted support and improvement for students with disabilities were Milton Middle School, Clinton Elementary School and Whitewater Middle School.

The report is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, commonly referred to as ESSA. The law, signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2015, requires states to track and report test scores, graduation rates, and a variety of other factors for all students and for various student demographics, including race, income level and whether students have disabilities.

The Janesville School District now has three years to reduce the gaps at Adams, Marshall, Edison and Craig by half.

The numbers

At Craig, black students:

  • Received a score of 20.8 in the area of achievement, compared to a score of 56.1 for all students (the achievement scores given in this story are not percentages; they are derived from a formula developed for the ESSA law).
  • Were more likely to be chronically absent (absent for 10 percent of all school days). About 39 percent of black students at Craig were chronically absent compared to 22.9 percent of all students.

At Marshall, black students:

  • Received a score of 31.2 in the area of achievement, compared to a score of 59.7 for all students.
  • Were more likely to be chronically absent. About 28 percent of black students at Marshall were chronically absent compared to 13.8 percent of all students.

For students with disabilities, the federal government uses many of the same factors such as achievement and absenteeism. Instead of comparing these students with others in their schools, they are compared to other students with disabilities statewide. Schools that rank in the bottom 10 percent of the state fall into the “targeted support and improvement” category under ESSA.

The law

ESSA replaced George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. This year is the first the rankings have been released.

Under ESSA, scores are based on several years worth of data, not just one. As new data is added each year, the scores are recalculated, explained Kim Peerenboom, Janesville School District director of student services.

“It means they are really, truly looking for those patterns in schools that are not closing the gaps or making improvements,” she said.

District officials can also pull information about individual students to look for trends or issues they need to address.

For example, when they were analyzing data from Craig, they found students who had attended 12 to 25 schools in their careers, including out-of-town and out-of-state schools. Transient students often struggle to keep up with school. School officials could also drill down to more specific details, such as which hours students were absent, to help them find solutions.

“We’ve been talking a lot about longevity versus short-term fixes,” Peerenboom said.

So what are some of the concrete methods the district might use to close the achievement gaps between all students all black students at Craig and Marshall?

“There are a number of things in the school staffing plan that we can’t talk about yet because they have to go to the board,” Peerenboom said.

Though some strategies can’t be discussed yet, Peerenboom did to describe how district will use a profile of each student at Craig to identify what their strengths are, how long they have been in the district, the courses they are taking and their attendance record.

Craig also recently started a “circles of support” program the district thinks could help. All students are part of small groups overseen by a teacher. They will stay in those groups as they move through high school. The hope is that helping students make personal connections can lead to success.

Making sure the curriculum connects with students is crucial, too. For example, officials discovered a student who had trouble with absenteeism missed significantly fewer sessions of a multicultural studies class.

For students with disabilities, closing the gap will be more complicated. A student with a disability is simply defined as one who has an individual education plan. That could mean the student has a learning disability such as dyslexia or ADHD or it could mean he or she has a developmental disability such as Down syndrome. The district will have to dig deeper into the data to make individual improvements.

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