Janesville Superintendent Steve Pophal might consider adding “stop the slide in the school district’s state report card scores” to the ambitious list of “promises” he unveiled two years ago.

The district’s latest score, 64.2, puts it at “meeting expectations” but on the cusp of a D grade—“meeting few expectations.” It’s a long way from the 75, “exceeds expectations,” the district posted in 2015-16.

Scores for reading and mathematics have lingered at or below the state average for several years, while this year’s decline can be mostly attributed to a lack of “district growth” in language arts and mathematics, dropping from 81.3 in 2015-16 to 51.8 this year.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, we’re concerned about the direction the district is going. The public relies on these types of evaluations to gauge the quality of school districts, and some parents might use these scores to decide whether to settle in a community. If the district sinks to “meets few expectations,” it could discourage people, including job creators, from moving to Janesville and raising a family here.

The district’s slide is a bit of a head-scratcher. Remember, Pophal came to Janesville in 2017 offering to “promise” results. Many of his colleagues applauded him at the time for doing one better than making “goals.” Pophal pledged to achieve. His promises range from ensuring every student is known by name, to having 90% of third-graders reading at grade level, to graduating more students with college-level credits or industry certifications.

We’ve applauded Pophal’s focus on helping students prepare for their careers. He isn’t a big fan of standardized testing, rightly noting productivity in the real world has little to do with filling in bubbles on a test sheet.

Perhaps the state’s report card should give Janesville more credit for emphasizing real-world achievement and give less weight to standardized testing.

But the reality is, standardized testing gives people an objective measurement to compare students and schools, and these tests aren’t disappearing anytime soon.

Conversations about state report cards are as much about people’s perception of the Janesville School District as they are about the district’s actual performance. If these report cards create a perception of slipping academic standards, that’s a problem regardless if the perception is accurate.

Pophal has been in his job only two years, and readers should keep in mind that these report card scores don’t rely on real-time data. He deserves a year or two to boost these scores.

But if the scores haven’t improved by 2021 or crater further, Pophal will be pressed to explain how his “promises” are helping the district.

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