- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The percentage of Madison School District students who are proficient in reading and math has improved in some grades since Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham took over in 2013, but a significant racial achievement gap remains, a new report finds.

Cheatham on Monday released the district’s second annual report, which tracks student progress in selected grades in reading and math and in readiness for college or graduation.

“As always, we are very pleased with progress but never satisfied,” Cheatham said in an interview. “And I think this shows that we’re continuing to move the needle for children in our district, but we’re also on a journey. This is all about sustainable improvement and not just a flash-in-the-pan effect.”

Overall, the district’s graduation rate for 2014 improved 1 percentage point over 2013 to 79 percent, an increase of 3 percentage points since 2012.

The report cited proficiency rates in reading and math for students in grades 3, 5 and 8, as measured by the Measures of Academic Progress exam, which tests students throughout the school year.

Overall, fewer than half of students in any of the grades highlighted were considered proficient in reading or math, but all three grades also showed increases in proficiency in both subjects since the 2012-13 school year. The report did not include test data for grades 4, 6 and 7.

Third-graders showed a small improvement in math over the prior year, testing at 45 percent proficient — up 2 percentage points from the 2013-14 school year — while reading proficiency decreased by 1 percentage point to 37 percent.

Forty-four and 48 percent of fifth-graders tested proficiently in reading and math, respectively, up 4 and 6 percentage points over fifth-graders in 2013-14.

Eighth-graders’ proficiency in reading decreased 1 percentage point to 39 percent, while math proficiency improved 1 percentage point to 42 percent.

Board member T.J. Mertz noted the district has seen improvements in graduation rates. But he also said that because the report does not include demographics of the groups of students tested each year, track cohorts of students, nor include data for all grades or break scores down by school, it’s hard to draw conclusions.

“I think we would need to know more,” said Mertz. “Because we need to honestly assess how we’re doing and where we’re doing well and where improvement is needed, and this data doesn’t help me do that very well.”

Fifty-one percent of the district’s high school juniors are considered college-ready in reading and math, down 3 and 4 percentage points, respectively, from last year’s juniors, according to the report.

For years, black students as a group have performed far below their white peers in Madison.

The new report shows proficiency rates for blacks in reading and math improving in most areas cited in the report, but still far below the rates of white students.

Just 13 percent of black third-graders are considered proficient in reading, for example, although that is up from 8 percent of last school year’s third-graders.

Fifteen percent of black fifth-graders and 9 percent of black eighth-graders are considered proficient — up from 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, 59 percent of white third-graders are considered proficient in reading, as are 68 percent of white fifth-graders and 59 percent of white eighth-graders.

College readiness rates in reading and math also are vastly different for white and black high school juniors.

Just 13 percent of black juniors are considered ready for college in reading, as measured by the ACT exam, compared with 67 percent of white juniors.

Forty-seven percent of black ninth-graders have two or more Fs, up from 44 percent the year before. That’s compared to 7 percent of white students, which is down from 9 percent the year before.

The percentage of black juniors with at least a 3.0 grade-point average is 14 percent compared to 68 percent for white juniors.

The graduation rate for black students was 56 percent in 2014, up from 54 percent in 2013. White students graduated at a rate of 91 percent in 2014, up from 88 percent in 2013.

“We’re making improvement, but not necessarily getting at gap closure and certainly not yet — I think that would be an unachievable goal in two years’ time,” Cheatham said. “Nevertheless, I think you’ll see the district in this past year in particular is really doubling down.”

Most schools have put a priority on raising academic achievement for black students in their school improvement plans.

To that end, Cheatham said about two-thirds of elementary schools are meeting goals put forward in their plans, while middle schools have held flat.

“We’re seeing consistently positive progress at the elementary level, and consistently we’re seeing a lack of positive growth (in middle schools),” she said, calling it an “implementation dip.”

District officials have put forward a number of initiatives to address middle school performance, especially to prepare eighth-graders for ninth grade.

Cheatham said she is encouraged that because elementary schools are showing progress, students are getting a good academic foundation.

The report highlights Elvehjem Elementary School, which saw its third- through fifth-graders’ combined reading proficiency improve from 40 percent to 46 percent in one school year.

Black students’ proficiency rate improved from 12 percent to 25 percent, according to the report, and the rate for students with special needs improved from 12 percent to 21 percent. Data by individual grade level were not provided.

“We responded based on what we saw in classrooms, ” Elvehjem instructional coach Amy Kane said in the report. “Even though we had a mapped out plan, we adjusted after we reflected on what we saw in classrooms.”

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(c)2015 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com

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