Academic skills improving in West Allis-West Milwaukee

July 2, 2013

West Allis — High school students who are struggling with reading and math and students of all ages who excel seem to be doing better in the West Allis-West Milwaukee Schools.

For example, nine of the 11 elementary schools met growth targets for their gifted, creative and talented students last year in reading. That's up from only two schools out of 11 the year before, said Johnna Noll, director of curriculum and instruction.

Success in math also improved but by a more modest 10 schools out of 11 meeting their targets, which is up from nine the year before.

For a school to meet its growth target at least 70 percent of students had to meet the growth target set for them according to national norms for a year's worth of academic growth.

At the high school level, students in the PRIME/Compass programs for those having difficulty with reading or math did better at meeting their targets last year than in the past. In reading, 72 percent met their growth targets, which is up 16 percent from the year before. In math, 74 percent were on target, up 13 percent.

"Our teachers are very much involved in working with the students," Noll said.

Gains in early years

The schools are laying a good foundation for success through the state-funded SAGE program for all kindergarten through third-grade students, Noll said. SAGE stands for Student Achievement Guarantee in Education.

Overall, 90 percent of the district's youngest students reached their growth objectives last year compared with only 76 percent the year before.

"They've done a lot of work in the elementary schools," Noll said.

The averages for the four grades also show 100 percent of students hitting their reading goals, up from 95 percent; 75 percent hitting language goals, down from 77 percent; and 95 percent hitting math goals, up from 56 percent.

Still a way to go

But the picture is not entirely rosy because meeting growth goals doesn't mean students are working at grade level. Growth targets are set individually for them and meeting those targets may not mean the student catches up immediately.

For example, Hoover Elementary School had 27 students who worked with reading teachers last year. An encouraging 68 percent of them met their reading growth targets, but only 2 percent were reading at their grade level, based on their scores on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

There are problems, too, at the intermediate school level.

Looking at that data, School Board member Sue Sujecki said, "At the intermediate schools, scores are pretty dismal."

But Noll said she analyzed the results classroom by classroom and found that they missed their growth targets by only a small amount. The district goal is 70 percent.

"Many of them were very, very close," Noll said. "I do not want to make excuses, 70 percent is 70 percent," she said.

Those in the intermediate schools' three main reading-help programs exceeded the 70 percent target. Among those in the Compass program, 76 percent met growth targets, those in the reading intervention program, 72 percent and those in the PASS program, 80 percent.

Board member Gail Radonski was especially concerned about those who still are having trouble.

If one program doesn't work, they are put in another, Noll said. If not enough progress is made, the student may be recommended for summer school. Some teachers even monitor students over the summer.

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