The news school report cards were released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction for the 2016-17 school year. Despite the improvement in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district’s overall score, more MPS students were in failing schools than the previous year.

The state report cards show 24,972 students were in MPS schools that were rated “fails to meet expectations,” 525 more than what was reported for the 2015-16 school year. The number of failing schools also went up from 42 to 46 failing schools.

Despite the increased number of MPS students in a growing number of failing schools, MPS actually slightly improved its overall accountability score from 55.3 to 56, or “meets few expectations.”

Wisconsin schools and school districts are measured on truancy rates, academic performance and student growth. There are five different ratings as well as a number of stars for each rating. Every school gets at least one star.

Significantly Exceeds Expectations, or five stars

Exceeds Expectations, or four stars

Meets Expectations, or three stars

Meets Few Expectations, or two stars

Fails to Meet Expectations, or one star

For the 2015-16 school year, the report cards were weighted for student poverty and for student growth. One result of  these changes was to lift MPS’ score from “Fails to Meet Expectations” to “Meets Few Expectations.”

Avoiding the failing grade meant MPS was no longer under the threat of having schools taken over by a schools turnaround program, the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program. That program, created by the state legislature, could have taken up to four schools annually from MPS control to be run by an administrator chosen by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. Mequon Schools Superintendent Demond Means was chosen to be the administrator but resigned after strong opposition from MPS to the turnaround school district plan of taking over just one failing MPS school.

There was good news in the report cards for the Racine Unified School District (RUSD). In the previous report card, the district was rated as “Fails to Meet Expectations,” but the district’s score in the current report cards improved to “Meets Few Expectations.” In addition, there are six failing schools in the RUSD according to the current report card compared to nine failing schools on the previous report card. The district also saw the number of students in failing schools drop from 9,605 students to 5,238 students in failing schools.

Statewide there was some improvement in the number of students in failing schools. In the 2015-16 school year, there were 53,044 students in 99 failing schools. There were 41,234 public school students in 82 failing schools in the 2016-17 school year, a 22.3 percent drop in the number of students in failing schools and a 17.2 percent decrease in the number of failing schools. In the 2015-16 school year there were five failing school districts but there were no failing school districts in the 2016-17 school year.

This is the first year that private schools in the state’s private school choice programs could be rated. This is the second year those schools participated in the report card program and now student growth can be measured. There were 8480 students in the Milwaukee and Racine parental choice programs in 34 schools that were rated, “Fails to Meet Expectations.”

For a deeper look at the data:

The list of public schools in Racine & Milwaukee that are failing. (PDF)

The list of failing schools in Wisconsin. (PDF)

The complete school report card data (Excel) provided by DPI.

The DPI report card for school districts.

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