Milwaukee Public Schools is gradually improving on state report cards that measure school districts' overall success.
The report card for the 2018-19 school year, shows that even though MPS struggles with test scores, it's getting better at closing achievement gaps and advancing student growth. But the district is still one of the lowest-ranking in Wisconsin.
The report cards give districts "accountability ratings" on a scale of 0 to 100. For the 18-19 school year, MPS received a score of 58.4 — a 2.4-point improvement over three years. It puts MPS in the category of "meets few expectations."
Individual schools are also given report cards. In MPS, there are still 28 schools with the lowest ranking — "fails to meet expectations." That includes most of the district's nonselective high schools.
But compared to previous report cards, more schools are meeting expectations.
And some of the district's traditional elementary schools broke into the top rated, "five-star" category. Marvin Pratt Elementary, a K-5 school with mostly low-income black students, is the highest-scoring school in the entire district. Pratt was especially successful at growing student achievement year-to-year.
WUWM was not able to reach MPS officials for comment by deadline for this report.
Pratt Elementary's high score is followed by two independent charter schools — Milwaukee Excellence (which served grades 6-8 last year) and Carmen High School South. Milwaukee Excellence was the top-scoring MPS school in 2017-18 report cards. Founder Maurice Thomas attributed the school's success to its teachers and its academics – which include two class periods of reading and math.
"This is our second consecutive year with a five-star rating," said Thomas. "We're proud to be making a difference in a city that is characterized as the worst place for African Americans to live, especially knowing that 97% of our student population is African American."
The ratings on the report cards are based on test scores, how much students improve over time, progress toward closing achievement gaps, and postsecondary readiness.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction noted that the overall scores still strongly correlate with family income even though the state has tried to account for poverty in its formula.
The highest-scoring K-12 districts in the Milwaukee area are located in affluent suburbs: Mequon-Thiensville, Elmbrook and Whitefish Bay.
Another high-poverty district in southeastern Wisconsin, Racine Unified, is trending in the opposite direction from MPS. The scores on Racine's report cards have dropped over the last three years. For the first time, MPS ranks higher than Racine.
Public education advocate Heather DuBois Bourenane says even though most schools in Wisconsin meet expectations, state lawmakers should do more to address disparities between districts.
"There is a significant disparity across the state between haves and have nots," DuBois Bourenane said. "And we have some districts and schools that are serving populations of students that have significantly more challenges than other kids and require more resources to serve, and we're not meeting their needs."
DuBois Bourenane’s group, the Wisconsin Public Education Network, put out its own report cards – grading state legislators on their support of public schools. They gave Republicans — who voted against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' $1.4 billion education budget — failing grades.
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