Thumbs Up for Leopold; Thumbs Down for No Child Left Behind — Part One

Saturday’s State Journal included an interesting article about Leopold Elementary School.  Matt DeFour’s piece points out that the school district plans to launch what the article describes as a marketing campaign –  and what I would call an information initiative – “targeting Leopold attendance area residents, real estate agents, neighborhood associations and potential Fitchburg home buyers.”

I’m glad to see to see that we’re taking some proactive steps to dispel misperceptions about Leopold, which comes in for undeserved criticism in some quarters.  By objective measures, the school is doing a good job.

Unfortunately, and for complicated reasons, the school is being victimized by its status as a “School Identified for Improvement” under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.  I’ll have a companion post that explains how the knots into which Leopold is tied by this designation says more about shortcomings in the law than in the school.  Here, I’ll focus on features of Leopold that should be of interest to potential Fitchburg home buyers, and so to real estate agents as well.

Comments on the article on the State Journal website document the fact that some real estate agents haven’t exactly gone out of their way to praise Leopold’s accomplishments to potential home-buyers in Fitchburg.  If they’re not, they’re disserving their clients.

Here’s some information for the Realtors® to use.  But first, they should go visit Leopold for themselves.  Principal John Burkholder will be happy to give them a tour.

I had a chance to stop by a month or so ago, and came away impressed.  It’s a big school but it’s not overcrowded these days and it has the sense of order and buzz of activity that you’d expect at a well-functioning elementary school.

Folks looking for a house in Fitchburg who are working with Realtors® are almost certainly not low-income.  If they are concerned about how their children would do at Leopold, then they should look at how well Leopold does educating non-low-income students.

The only available source of comparative data is WKCE scores.  I think the measure that should be of primary interest to home buyers is the percentage of non-low-income students at the school who score at the “Advanced” level on the WKCE.  “Advanced” is the highest of the four WKCE categories.  Typically, however, more than half of our non-low-income students test out at that level, so for these purposes I think it provides the most useful basis for comparison.

I looked at the most recent test-score data on a school-wide basis.  (These figures as well as all kinds of data are available on the DPI website.)  I compared the percentage of Leopold non-low-income students who scored at the Advanced level in the five WKCE subject areas against four other groups of elementary school students:  (1) those attending Stoner Prairie, which is the elementary school in the Verona school district that students living in some areas of Fitchburg attend rather than Leopold;  (2) those in the Madison school district as a whole; (3) those in the Verona school district as a whole, and (5) the state-wide average for elementary school students.

Here are the results:

PERCENTAGE OF NON-LOW-INCOME STUDENTS SCORING “ADVANCED'” ON NOVEMBER 2010 WKCE

Reading Language Arts Math Science Social Studies
Leopold 73.5% 52.8% 71.6% 41.7% 88.9%
Stoner Prairie 72.1% 66.7% 68.2% 38.1% 88.1%
MMSD 68.8% 48.5% 57.4% 54.4% 76.1%
Verona 66.5% 42.0% 54.9% 49.8% 70.9%
State 56.2% 34.3% 45.7% 40.7% 64.0%

To see the same data displayed as a chart, click here.

What does this tell us?  Leopold students outscored their Stoner Prairie neighbors in four of the five subjects (though not by much).  The Stoner Prairie students did quite well in Language Arts, and the students at both Leopold and Stoner Prairie have room for improvement in Science.  The Leopold students scored comfortably above the Madison average, the Verona average, and the statewide average in Reading, Language Arts, Math and Social Studies.  (And I can’t resist noting that the Madison average was higher than the Verona average across the board.)

So, on the whole and at least to the extent that WKCE scores are a guide, Leopold is doing a fine job of educating non-low-income students.  There is no reason for house-hunting parents to think that they would be compromising their students’ learning by enrolling them at Leopold.

In addition, Leopold has a diverse student body.  About three percent of the students are of Asian origin and there are a handful of Native American students as well.  The remainder of the student body is comprised of roughly equal percentages of African-American, Hispanic and white students.

While views certainly differ on this point, I believe it is indisputable that students benefit in real, important, but non-quantifiable ways by attending school with classmates of different races and cultures.  Other things equal, it’s simply a richer learning environment and one that better prepares students to succeed in our twenty-first century world.

Finally, Leopold offers the option of dual-language immersion classes. Beginning in kindergarten, English-speaking students can start learning Spanish as their Spanish-speaking classmates start learning English.  If they stick with it, the native English speakers will become highly proficient in Spanish.  An outside expert  from the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics who evaluated Madison’s dual language programs offerings concluded that they could develop into “one of the great programs in the country.” And there’s no extra charge!

There’s a lot to like about Leopold.  With strong school leadership and a skilled and motivated staff, there is no question that the school is on the upswing.  Well-informed real estate agents would do their home-shopping clients a favor by filling them in on the advantages that the school offers for parents interested in a stimulating and successful learning environment in a diverse setting.  And if the Realtors® want to know how to respond to questions about the unfortunate NCLB designation for Leopold, they should read my next post.

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