The Wisconsin Department of Instruction recently released its annual statewide report cards for the 2015-2016 school year and all three schools in the News' coverage area were rated "Exceeds Expectations," with the Somerset School District making the biggest jump from "Meets Expectations" last year to "Exceeds Expectations" this year, a nine point increase.
The DPI Report Cards are intended to help all schools and districts use academic tests to target improvement efforts to ensure students are ready for the next educational step — including the next grade level, graduation, college and careers.
Scores/ratings for area schools are as follows:
• New Richmond, 82.3 (four-star, Exceeds Expectations)
• Somerset, 80.6 (four star, Exceeds Expectations)
• Hudson, 78.5 (four star, Exceeds)
• Ellsworth, 77.2 (Exceeds)
• Prescott, 77.1 (Exceeds)
• River Falls, 77.6 (Exceeds)
• St. Croix Central, 76.0 (Exceeds)
• Baldwin-Woodville, 75.1 (Exceeds)
Report cards for schools statewide can be accessed online at apps2.dpi.wi.gov/reportcards.
Of all the school districts in the area, the Somerset School District made the biggest jump, increasing its overall district score by nine points, from a 71.5 "Meets Expectations" grade to an 80.6 "Exceeds Expectations" grade.
"I think we are turning a corner. The board has been so supportive of the things we have needed to do, as far as additional staff in certain areas and supporting the initiatives we have, especially the strategic plan," said superintendent Dr. Mark Bezek. "The strategic plan is a rallying point in the district and it doesn't have anything to do with math, English or science, but it is our road map to the future."
With the last few year's scores not being up to snuff, Bezek and his staff have worked hard to find different ways to get the district's scores back to where they would like them to be.
" Our last few haven't been the glowing. I think it was a wakeup call for all of us in the system that it is not about working harder, it is about working differently," Bezek said. "In our Professional Learning Communities and some of the other avenues we have for professional development, I think people are taking it to heart and injecting it into their classrooms. I think the work on the strategic plan ... really did a lot to say we have to work together to make this system work. The downside of not making the system work is that there are other schools around us that are only a few minutes away, so you lose your students.
"I think we have been building on a mission that is doing the most for the kids we have and being an inviting district. That trickles over into the community also. Everyone has to have a place at the table so we can build as a community."
One of the things Bezek believes helped the district achieve the scores it did on the most recent report card is the fact that the district's new curriculum/system has finally started to take hold.
"When you put in a new system/curriculum like they did here a few years ago, it takes a while to gel and to really take root and for people to see it is working," Bezek said. "I think that was part of it last year also was that the PLC teams we have and the new curriculum we put in over the last few years have started to gel because people are starting to get it. With every new program, there is an implementation dip."
The New Richmond School District was able to reach one of its district goals by placing in the top 8 percent of K-12 districts in the state of Wisconsin.
"The School District of New Richmond board of education along with our team of staff members set annual goals to help guide our commitment to excellence," said district administrator Patrick Olson. "One of our goals is to be in the top 10% of districts in the state as measured by the district report card."
Although both the middle (83.1, down from 84.3) and high schools (66.1, down from 68.3) saw slight drops in their overall scores, the New Richmond elementary schools — including Hillside, Paperjack and Starr elementaries — pushed their overall scores into the 90s and maintained a five star/Significantly Exceeds Expectations rating.
"All three elementary buildings achieved an overall score in the 90's which shows a solid educational foundation for our students," Olson said. "The middle school continues on an upward trend with an increase in their student achievement data. The high school also saw improvement with overall ACT data. We saw increases in both ELA and Math of students reaching proficient/advanced status. Our high school's overall ACT composite score also increased from 20.1 to 21.0 with all students in grade 11 taking the ACT assessment."
According to Olson, the middle and high school's saw a slight decrease in their scores due to the area of closing the gaps.
Even though the St. Croix Central School District's overall score dipped slightly (76.0, down .3 points from 2015-2016) superintendent Tim Widiker and Director of Teaching and Learning Glenn Webb feel the district is still right where it should be, with plenty of room to grow and improve.
"Overall I'm very pleased with our scores. We have everybody either meeting expectations or exceeding expectations," Widiker said. "Even the one that was at meeting expectations barely missed being at the exceeds level. We've got work to do to meet our goal to be in the top 10 in the state, which will mean increasing our score by 10 points. But I'm confident we are doing the right things to get there."
The school with the highest score in the district was the high school, which jumped almost 3 points to reach a score of 87.2.
"At the high school, we have an amazing score there, but what we are being judged on are only a couple category because we don't have those growth measures and those gap measures. So that has to be taken into account as well," Webb said. "So we have to look at our achievement and say 'what do we do to make it better?' We have a great score, but how do we maintain it?"