Posted on

Colby Schools show decline in DPI report card

The Colby school board discussed the results of their annual district report card from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction during their November meeting held this past Monday. The district as a whole received a rating of “meets few expectations,” which is the second lowest of five rating categories that are given out to schools. This continues a trend from the last two years of the district scoring below expectations, whereas in the decade prior they had either met or exceeded expectations.

These scores are based on several different criteria, with the elementary, middle and high schools all being graded separately and the district as a whole also receiving a score. These criteria are weighted differently depending whether the school is an elementary, middle, or high school, but generally the focus is on test scores, improvement of test scores over time, how well students with the lowest scores perform and improve over time, and on-track graduation rates.

For the 2021-22 school year, the Colby school district saw the elementary and middle school, as well as the district as a whole, fall into the “meets few expectations” category, with the high school narrowly scoring in the “meets expectations” range. Just a few years ago, following the 2018-19 school year, the district found itself in the “exceeds expectations” across the board on its report card. While it should be cautioned to not directly compare scores from the last two years to ones prior, given that the formula for calculating these scores was recently changed, this shift, especially given it has persisted over the last two school years, is something to be examined.

“This is concerning,” superintendent Dr. Steven Kolden said at Monday’s board meeting. “We had some conversations this morning at curriculum council and last Tuesday the data team started digging into our state test scores and more will be coming on that.”

“The first step is, when you look at the calculations and everything that goes into the state report card, it’s different at different levels,” Kolden continued when asked by the board what came of those initial meetings. “There’s a difference in our socio-economic status, our special education student population, and our EL student population. They are scored differently if they are identified appropriately, as they are looking at closing the gap between last year and this year. If we don’t identify them appropriately in the data, then they are compared academically to every other student across the state. So one of the things when we first started looking at the data was ‘are we getting accurate information out of our student information system?’” Sifting through the data to find what exactly is lowering these scores will take some time, given the complexity of how these scores are calculated and that different criteria are weighted differently at each level. Hopefully, after more time is put toward analyzing it, target areas for improvement can be found and at that point planning for how to address those issues can start to take place.

Scores have gone down in the state as a whole from the 2020-21 school year to the 2021-22 school year. 84 percent of schools received “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations” for 2021-22, which is down from 87 percent for the 2020-21 school year.

Special Education Positions

The board also approved a recommendation from their personnel committee to add two full-time special education teacher assistant positions.

“We’ve had some significant increase not only in the number of special needs students, but in the significance of the disability as well,” Kolden stated to the board. “As far as students needing more personal care, one of the TAs is going to be a CNA that can help with some medical needs. We’ve already added a deaf and hard-of-hearing interpreter that does sign language for some of our students, but this is mostly based on student individual need and numbers all at the same time.”

There are some concerns regarding the funding for these new positions. 70 percent of the cost is going to be coming from the general fund, as opposed to the special education fund. Additionally, any increase to the special education spending would need to continue at that rate unless the district can show a decrease in student need.

Kolden clarified by stating, “Once we spend $100 for special education and nothing changes, the following year we can’t spend $90, we need to ‘maintain our effort.’” “Once these positions come, we have to be very careful in looking at how long they will stay,” Kolden said.

These are federal guidelines that the district must follow, rather than state ones, and with Wisconsin underfunding special education, there could be issues that arise. Ultimately though, with no other options available to the district and the service needing to be provided to the students, the board decided to approve the two new positions.