Thursday, November 8, 2012

Racine Unified Takes Proactive Steps to Close Achievement Gaps, Enhance Accountability

Across the state, school accountability has been a hot topic in recent weeks, including the first release of individual school report cards in late October, which sparked lively public discussion about how to effectively measure and improve school quality, student achievement, and teacher effectiveness.

In Southeast Wisconsin, Racine Unified School District (RUSD) is actively engaged in addressing these questions. The district has been working since 2009 to reach its North Star Vision, a community-wide effort to hold the district accountable for grade level performance targets. The intent is to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps so that every student can graduate from high school ready for success in college or careers.

In the Forum’s 15th annual report comparing RUSD with nine peer districts across Wisconsin, we analyze the district’s performance not only as compared to the peers and North Star targets, but against the overall context of community and student demographics, district finances, student engagement, and state-level policy changes. This year’s report also contains an analysis of school- and district-level value-added student growth, which measures the impact of schools and teachers on student learning.

Among our key findings:

  • North Star scorecard: Consistent with last year’s findings, the district generally did not meet its North Star grade level targets. This suggests the targets are in need of revisiting, especially as student growth takes on increased relevance in the statewide accountability system and the WKCE is phased out in favor of a new state assessment. It is anticipated that a new superintendent will investigate the need for revisions to the North Star framework in light of past performance and new state objectives and measures.
  • High school completion: The state’s focus on college and career readiness sharpens attention on the district’s high school completion rate, which showed a modest gain in 2010-11 to 73.2%. All student subgroups except white students increased their graduation rate over 2009-10, with African American students showing the most dramatic rise—7.4 percentage points to 60.6%.
  • WKCE proficiency rates: The 2011-12 school year brought mixed results in overall district reading and math proficiency. Historically, reading proficiency rates in the district have been among the lowest relative to peer districts and have tended to be higher in 8th grade than in 4th grade, only be precipitously lower in 10th grade. In 2011-12, however, the reading proficiency of Racine 10th graders jumped seven percentage points to 59%. As with reading, Racine’s math performance is lower than its peer districts and the state average. Unlike last year, however, when the district showed no progress over the prior year, 2011-12 saw Racine’s math proficiency improve slightly in all three grades.
  • Value-added growth: RUSD’s average value-added growth in reading over the past three years is equivalent to average growth statewide and outpaces growth in four peer districts. In math, RUSD lagged the state average and was the lowest of the peer districts. At the school level, all but two of RUSD’s 21 elementary schools met or exceeded the state average growth in reading, while all but six did so in math. Notably, the majority of these schools started below the state average in WKCE achievement. These results show how value-added growth analysis paints the picture of achievement with a different brush and highlights the progress of all students, not only those who meet proficiency standards in a given year.
Although it is too soon to tell precisely how the current education reforms will affect the district as a whole, it is clear that RUSD will be feeling their impacts for years to come. Despite the economic challenges RUSD continually faces, this year’s report shows RUSD entering the new policy environment with the momentum of community support of the North Star vision, vital initiatives to strengthen student engagement and early childhood education, and a firm commitment to narrowing achievement gaps related to race, income, language, and disability. For a copy of the 15th Annual Comparative Analysis of Racine Unified School District, click here. The report was sponsored by Education Racine Inc. and The Johnson Foundation.