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Weak spots exposed by WKCE test

WAWM students trail in science, reading, language

April 17, 2012

West Allis - Science, reading and language arts could be considered the Achilles' heel of the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, based on student scores on the statewide Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

On the other hand, the district had a firm footing in two other areas measured.

The WKCE measures the percentage of students working at or above grade level and compares them with the statewide average. The testing doesn't show how students can excel, but how well schools keep their students from falling behind. The goal is for 100 percent of students to be at the proficient or advanced levels in WKCE testing.

The WKCE tests in five subjects - reading, language arts (which includes spelling and grammar), math, science and social studies - at various grade levels.

Overall, local students are keeping up about as well as students around the state in math and social studies, based on the 2011-12 WKCE results.

But more are working below where they should be in science, language arts and reading than students statewide.

Details in comparisons

For example, in language arts, nearly one out of three local students is working below grade level. But the schools' 33.3 percent of students not being proficient in language arts isn't that much worse than schools statewide, where 30.4 percent were not proficient, either.

In science, West Allis students show a definite slide as they get older. They start out just under the statewide average for proficiency in fourth grade, but the percentage at grade level is significantly under the statewide average by the time they are high school sophomores. Just over half, 60.4 percent, are proficient in science compared to 71.6 percent statewide.

The science scores are a little misleading, though. Nathan Hale High School actually beat the state average in the 10th grade science testing while Central came in much lower. Fewer than half of Central's students are at grade level. Their 47.5 percent proficient or advanced in science is not only lower than the statewide average of 71.6 percent, but far lower than the 61.9 percent Central's sophomores scored just last year.

In terms of reading, scores also vary depending on the school. At Hale, 87.2 percent of sophomores are reading at grade level, while 68.7 percent of Central's sophomores are. The statewide average is 77.3 percent.

The WKCE reading tests show that West Allis elementary schools are at least keeping up with the statewide average except for Irving and Pershing elementary schools.

Reading proficiency starts falling behind the rest of the state at the intermediate schools. Only one of the three schools, Frank Lloyd Wright Intermediate, beat the state average in number of students proficient in reading. The other two lagged behind.

Mixed trends

With the publishing of WKCE results last year, West Allis-West Milwaukee officials celebrated that a three-year slide on four critical scores had been stopped. The proportion of students at least at grade level went up instead of down in math, science, reading and language arts.

That trend continued this year with improvements in math and language arts. But the schools fell back a bit in reading and science.

Reviewing results

The West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board will discuss the WKCE results in the coming weeks. District officials are waiting for a final report from the state Department of Public Instruction that will help them pinpoint where programs have worked and where improvement is needed, said School Board President Sue Stalewski.

While the board hasn't fully explored the WKCE results yet, Stalewski said, "We have some areas where we have done really, really well and made improvements."

But there are other areas that still need work, she added.

WA-WM SCHOOLS PERFORMANCE ON 2011-12 WKCE EXAM

Percentage of students working at or above grade level (total the year before)
  READING
LANGUAGE ARTS
MATH SCIENCE
All WA-WM schools 82.1 (83.8) 66.7 (69) 77.7 (76.4) 69.6 (72)
Statewide average 81 (82.1) 69.6 (69.1) 77 (76.3) 75.6 (75.3)
Nathan Hale High School, 10th grade 87.2 (86.6) 78.3 (82.3) 76.8 (75.3) 74.8 (78.7)
Central High School, 10th grade 68.7 (66.5) 54.3 (66.2) 55.2 (60) 47.5 (61.9)
Statewide average, 10th grade 77.3 (73.9) 69.4 (70.8) 70.4 (70.1) 71.6 (73.2)

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