WILL Policy Brief Encourages Updates, Improvements to State Report Card

COVID interruption provides opportunity to consider, implement improvements

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) issued a new policy brief, Needs Improvement: How Wisconsin’s Report Card Can Mislead Parents, to explain how Wisconsin’s school report cards, issued by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), currently work and identify ways to improve the report card to better reflect school performance. Without Forward Exam scores for the most recent school year, the legislature has a unique opportunity to improve the state report card with minimal disruption.

The Policy Brief: WILL Research Director Will Flanders’s new policy brief, Needs Improvement: How Wisconsin’s Report Card Can Mislead Parents, provides an important explanation of how Wisconsin’s school report cards work and how the various inputs work towards a school’s score. Specifically, Flanders highlights:

  • School report card scores vary widely based on student demographics. In schools with fewer low-income students, overall performance is given more weight. In schools with more low-income students, growth is given more weight.
  • Wisconsin’s report card can make some bad schools look good. Some schools with less than 5% proficiency in math and English are rated as “Meets” or “Exceeds” expectations on the current report card. This severely limits the ability of families to make use of the report card as a metric for school quality.
  • The report card harms private schools in the choice program due to a mismeasurement of disability & economic status. Disability status affects growth scores and the economic status of students effects the weight of growth in the report card score. Both of these factors are often measured inaccurately in choice schools, harming their overall scores.
  • Private school systems cannot get school-level report cards. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has made it so that private school systems must choose between byzantine enrollment and auditing systems or getting individual school report cards for their schools. Without individual school report cards, it is more difficult for schools to determine how each school in their system is doing.

Policy Solutions: Policymakers should take the opportunity afforded by a lack of Forward Exam testing to make the report cards more comparable across sectors and user-friendly.

  • The report card should adjust the weighting for growth based on economic status so that overall achievement plays a larger role in the score a school receives.
  • DPI should allow choice schools that are part of school systems to receive report cards for each of their schools just like all other schools in the state do.

The Quote: WILL Research Director Will Flanders said, “Understanding Wisconsin’s state report cards is a critical component of parental and taxpayer accountability. While COVID-19 has been disruptive to so many aspects of K-12 education, it does provide policymakers a golden opportunity to improve the state report card to better reflect school performance.”

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