Ten Madison schools and five others in Dane County have been identified among the lowest performers in the state in terms of low-income and minority student achievement under a new statewide school accountability system.
The Department of Public Instruction developed the system — which identifies schools as "focus" and "priority" — to obtain a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which for the past decade has resulted in sanctions for certain schools.
The Madison schools identified as "focus" schools are Allis, Falk, Lakeview, Leopold, Midvale/Lincoln, Lowell, Orchard Ridge, Sandburg, Schenk and Thoreau elementaries. Other local "focus" schools include West Middleton Elementary in Middleton-Cross Plains, Bird Elementary in Sun Prairie, and Badger Ridge Middle, and Glacier Edge and Sugar Creek elementaries in Verona.
Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad, in a letter Tuesday to parents at the affected schools, said "the district is still learning the full details and impact on schools."
On Wednesday, Nerad said the district's current approach to closing the achievement gap should address the system's new requirements.
Rosita Gonzalez, president of the Thoreau Elementary parent teacher organization, said the letter was frustrating.
"It's disheartening to say you're a 'focus school' and put a brand on the school," Gonzalez said. "How do you explain that to the public?"
Nerad's letter said the designation is based partly on student achievement, student growth, closing achievement gaps and on-track graduation and post-secondary readiness, but DPI spokesman John Johnson clarified that the designation is solely based on state test scores and 2011 graduation rates.
A separate statewide accountability system that will include numerical ratings for all schools in the state will be based on those other factors, Johnson said. Those ratings are expected to be reported to school districts later this month.
Typically schools that receive Title I funds would be notified about now as to whether they met federal standards. In 2011-12, students at Leopold Elementary School received free transportation to other schools as a sanction for subpar test scores. Leopold also had to offer students free tutoring.
That system is being replaced by the "priority" and "focus" system pending waiver approval, Johnson said.
Out of 1,183 Title I schools in Wisconsin, 58 — none in Dane County — were identified as "priority" schools, meaning they have the lowest percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on math and reading tests. Those schools must implement reforms such as adding 300 hours of instruction to the school year and improving parental involvement.
Another 118 schools were identified as "focus" schools. They constitute the bottom 10 percent based on a formula that considers state test scores among certain subgroups, such as minority and low-income students, and achievement gaps in test scores and graduation rates.
Those schools must implement one of three systems to improve student achievement and will receive training and assistance from DPI and others. The schools will fall under the designation for four years, Johnson said.
State officials accelerated implementation of the new rating systems by one year to improve their waiver chances.
But Republicans are concerned the system has changed from what a bipartisan committee agreed to earlier this year, said Sarah Archibald, an aide to Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Gov. Scott Walker originally wanted to assign letter grades to schools, but the committee agreed to a 100-point scale. Johnson said the rating system isn't finalized but DPI is considering both 100-point and 400-point scales.
[Editor's note: Lincoln Elementary School was not subject to sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law this past school year. This story originally reported incorrectly that the school was required to offer students free transportation to attend other schools in 2011-12. The school last offered free transportation in 2010-11.]