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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

School report cards: MPS improves slightly, absenteeism up statewide

Maria Orozco, a third grade teacher at H.W. Longfellow School, works with a student in 2022.
Emily Files
Maria Orozco, a third grade teacher at H.W. Longfellow School, works with a student in 2022.

Tuesday, Wisconsin released its latest school report cards, which show whether schools are struggling or succeeding to get students back on track after pandemic disruptions.

The Department of Public Instruction gives each school district a score between 0-100, based on test scores, student growth, graduation rates and absenteeism rates over a three-year period.

>> View your school's report card here.

"This allows districts, schools and parents to see what is working well, and also areas for improvement," DPI education consultant Patrick Chambers said in a media briefing.

These latest report cards are the first to include entirely pandemic-era data: from 2020 to 2023. Because of low test participation in the 2020-21 school year, DPI warns that the report cards should be interpreted with caution.

Milwaukee Public Schools saw an about 1-point increase in its 2023 report card, rising to a score of 58 out of 100. That slight increase moved MPS from the "meets few expectations" to the “meets expectations” category.

DPI's accountability report card scale.
Department of Public Instruction
DPI's accountability report card scale.

MPS Director of Research and Assessment Melanie Stewart attributed the improvement to the increasing test scores.

"We see that we’ve had a steady growth since we started taking tests again in the spring of ’21," Stewart said. "So we’re heading in the right direction."

In tests administered last spring, 39% of Wisconsin 3rd through 8th graders were proficient in English Language Arts and 41% were proficient in math.

One troubling trend in the report cards is an increase in chronic absenteeism. Almost one in four Wisconsin students was chronically absent in the 2021-22 school year — the most recent year with finalized data.

DPI defines "chronically absent" as missing more than 10% of school.

DPI social work consultant Julie Incitti said it’s likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We know that the loss of the relationships and routines that happened during the pandemic or during hybrid learning really impacted students," Incitti said. "One of the greatest ways to increase student attendance is through increasing a sense of belonging to a school community. And those relationships were disrupted."

Children who live in poverty are more likely to be chronically absent. In MPS, where 80% of students are economically disadvantaged, more than half of students (58%) were chronically absent in the 2021-22 school year.

Stewart said this school year, the absenteeism rate is closer to pre-pandemic levels, at about 38%.

As usual, the highest-scoring Wisconsin districts on state report cards have few low-income students. They include Whitefish Bay, Fox Point and Cedarburg. The lowest-scoring districts have high rates of poverty, including Beloit, Menominee Indian and Racine.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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