Psssst, Dane County Realtors – Check Out These School Rankings

This year’s results on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE), the state’s standardized test, became public this week. The reading and math results reflect the newer and more rigorous cut scores that were adopted by the Department of Public Instruction as part of the deal by which Wisconsin received a waiver from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Here in Madison, our attention is primarily focused on our troubling achievement gaps, and those gaps are achingly apparent in the new WKCE scores. Under new superintendent Jen Cheatham’s leadership, we’ll continue to pursue the most promising steps to accelerate the learning of our African-American, Latino and Hmong students who have fallen behind.

At the same time, we also need to continue to meet the needs of our students who are doing well. I am going to focus on the latter groups of students in this post.

In particular, I want to take a look at how our Madison students stack up against those attending schools in other Dane County school districts under the new WKCE scoring scale. The demographics of our Madison schools are quite a bit different from those of our surrounding school districts. This can skew comparisons. To control for this a bit, I am going to compare the performance of Dane County students who do not fall into the “economically disadvantaged” category. I’ll refer to these students as “non-low income.”

First, let’s take a look at the percentages of non-low income students in Dane County schools who scored at the proficient or advanced level in reading on the WKCE test administered in November of last year. The following chart ranks 15 Dane County school districts on this basis, with the state average also included to provide some perspective:


Next, let’s take a look at students who are higher achieving, at least by WKCE standards. The following chart lists the percentages of non-low-income students who scored in the advanced range on the WKCE reading test:


The next two charts show the same information for the WKCE math test. First, the percentages of non-low income students scoring proficient or advanced:


Finally, the percentages of non-low income students with advanced scores on the WKCE math test:


What to make of this? First, kudos to our neighbors in Middleton-Cross Plains. The performance of their students leads Dane County. If you go by cumulative rankings, Waunakee comes next, just edging out Madison. The remaining dozen school districts fill out the rest of the rankings.

We in Madison know that we lose a lot of students to neighboring school districts. Sadly for us, many parents believe that if their children attend our Madison public schools, they won’t receive the kind of education they’ll need to succeed in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century world.

As these charts show, the data tell a different story. By and large, students who are not low income are doing fine in our Madison schools, whether in comparison to other students in Dane County or to students statewide. Add to this the undeniable benefits our students derive in terms of cultural competency and interpersonal skills as a result of attending our richly diverse schools and the unique opportunities available to our Madison students (have you visited the wonderful showing of our students’ artwork currently on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art?), and, as smart Realtors should realize, the logical conclusion is that our Madison public schools are currently one of the truly undervalued assets of our region.

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10 Responses to Psssst, Dane County Realtors – Check Out These School Rankings

  1. These are important charts, but without the rest of the story, serious concerns remain with overall achievement in MMSD. Your story, does, however, need to be told directly to the 100s of families who consider leaving through Open Enrollment or moving. Many of those families have misconceptions about the quality of our schools. My son who had 5 hockey teammates move or Open Enroll to Monona Grove.

  2. Art Hackett says:

    One area where Madison is lagging is math. I showed these numbers to my wife and she jumped on what she feels is a failed approach to middle schools in the district. Our kids both went to Sherman….did fairly well, but the accelerated math programs that worked for them have all been dumped from what we’ve heard.

    • My son has had an incredible Math experience all the way from Marquette Elementary through East High School. In fact, most of his best teachers since 6th grade have been his math teachers.

    • Kristen says:

      Art, I can’t speak to MMSD math curriculum as a whole, but can give an anecdotal example that at Sherman this year, my daughter is definitely getting some challenging accelerated math. They have even arranged for her to take HS math at Shabazz next year. We’ve been very impressed with the advance math opportunities at Sherman. (and the math teachers!)

      • Art Hackett says:

        Thanks for your comments. Things may have gotten better. Our daughter was sent to East for advanced math classes (this was about fifteen years ago but at least one of her teachers there now teaches at Shabazz.

  3. Middleton-Cross Plains has used the Everyday Math program in their elementary schools grades kinder through sixth. It is an exceptional program! Too bad MMSD math leaders did not choose it to be our CORE Curriculum.

    • For what it’s worth, I have no expertise in curriculum but have a soft spot for Everyday Math because Andy Isaacs, a good friend of mine from high school (we double dated to our senior prom) is now at the University of Chicago and has led the development of all recent editions of the Everyday Mathematics texts.

  4. Bill Whitaker says:

    “Under new superintendent Jen Cheatham’s leadership, we’ll continue to pursue the most promising steps to accelerate the learning of our African-American, Latino and Hmong students who have fallen behind.”

    Continue? That is a bold and rather delusional statement considering this segment of our community has not seen any improvement in their quality of education since you’ve came into your position on the school board. And as far as I remember, you were on the opposing side of a powerful proposition, something unlike we’ve ever seen before in this community, to curb and reverse this problem. Go ahead and “continue” to tell yourself that you are part of the solution… there are those of us who will “continue” to remind you that in fact you are actually acting as a part of the problem.

  5. Ed, I have taught in first and second grade bilingual classrooms using EM in MMSD. As a Spanish language learner, teaching from the EM program improved my math vocabulary in my second language. I trusted the ” spiral” curriculum. The year I looped with my first graders to second grade was my most fun year as a bilingual math teacher! I think that Investigations is an acceptable program but I was never asked as an elementary classroom teacher my preference. I can teach math with any focused program…but, my heart belongs to Everyday Math!

  6. leftthedistrict says:

    As a parent that left the district I already knew that when you remove the disadvantage kids the differences in performance lessen to a large degree. Still these statistics are nothing to celebrate. The graphs are not even comparable. The reading graph is in increments of 2% making MMSD look like it is a leader with advanced readers when in reality there is not a significant difference between the top three schools and there is a less than 10% difference between the top and bottom schools. The mathematics graph conversely in which MMSD has its worst placement the graph is in increments of 10%. If that graph was displayed like the advanced reading scores in increments of 2% it would be a more honest comparison. Almost every school district surrounding MMSD performed higher and many by more than the % difference between the top and bottom schools in advance reading. While success in all subjects is important to me as a parent, math and science are more important to me as a tax payers and citizen, with most of the top degrees needed in our economy falling in the math and science related fields.

    You can survey and market the MMSD ad nauseam, but in order to get families like mine not to leave the district you need to close the gap. Not giving Madison Prep an opportunity, given the districts record in making anything but academic losses in this large group of your students, made it clear that you are not looking for solutions in a meaningful way. Perhaps it could have failed. I doubt it would have, but you are already failing these kids! I am not sure how much cultural competency and interpersonal skills you are really fostering with a gap as big as the one you have. As a graduate of Madison West I know that the kids you removed from these graphs that would give my kids “cultural diversity” would not be in their AP/honors classes, and many are not academically eligible to play sports. When would these relationships develop? I am sure it is the same at MMSD as it is at many area high schools that many of our kids have strong friendships with kids that are diverse but those are friends that our kids meet in classes or on a sports team and share something in common.

    As for art, there are a great many talented artists in MMSD no doubt, and especially from my alma mater West, but you should know there are families that moved out of the district to attend Middleton specifically for their arts program. Point being these are all distraction from the real problem “the gap” and until we see it addressed and addressed in a manor that will not hurt the academics of the children in the graph above, you will still have people leaving the district and “madison schools” will continue to be a negative in the housing market. Sincerely hoping MMSD will be posting about the successes in closing the gap in the near future.

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