State schools superintendent candidate targets report cards
John Humphries, one of two candidates looking to unseat Tony Evers as Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, announced Thursday that he would dramatically revamp the state’s school report cards, saying the current system inflates scores and awards passing grades to undeserving schools.
“Parents are getting an inaccurate view of the skill level of their children because the report cards aren’t giving honest and transparent information,” said Humphries, who unveiled his proposed revisions at a news conference on Thursday.
Evers, who is seeking a third term, rejected many of Humphries’ assertions as “ridiculous,” saying Wisconsin schools perform better than most in the country and that its report cards have been touted as among the nation’s best.
“I don’t believe it inflates scores, and I don’t believe our schools believe that either,” said Evers.
“And it was viewed favorably by the Education Commission of the States as one of the best in the nation for transparency.”
Evers and Humphries are in a three-way race that political observers say could evolve into a proxy battle over school choice in Wisconsin. Though the seat is officially nonpartisan, Evers has traditionally been associated with Democrats and has had the backing of the state and local teachers unions. Humphries, a consultant with the Dodgeville School District, and retired Beloit Superintendent Lowell Holtz describe themselves as conservatives.
Humphries appears to be a favorite among some Republicans, who have sought to rein in the power of Evers, one of the last left-leaning statewide elected officials in Madison. And the report cards are the latest issue Humphries is raising in the campaign to unseat him.
Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction has issued school and district report cards each year since 2012-’13 except for one year. Mandated as part of a waiver from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, they rate schools based on four main criteria: student achievement on standardized tests; student growth over time; schools’ achievement gaps between subgroups of students; and whether students are on track for college and career. Schools are graded on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, depending on whether they meet or fail to meet expectations.Schools and many parents have grown frustrated by the system in recent years because the frequent tinkering — primarily by the Legislature — has made it difficult to gauge school performance over time. And they’ve remained a political issue as advocates and educators continue to debate the assessment criteria and whether all schools — traditional public, charter, voucher — should be bound by the same reporting requirements.
Humphries’ report cards would issue letter grades from A to F, a proposal that has faced stiff opposition from schools in the past. Schools in which 80% or more of students are proficient would get an A; schools with fewer than 50% proficient an F. The net effect, he said, would be to lower school and district grades across the state.
Scores would be based on student achievement, achievement gaps, graduation rates (for high schools) and student growth (for elementary and middle schools). However, his plan would eliminate a change mandated by the Legislature last year that weights student growth more heavily in high poverty districts — a change that boosted Milwaukee Public Schools’ grade, helping it to evade a potential takeover.
Humphries also would include data on school safety — suspensions, expulsions, police calls and so on — a measure sought by some charter school advocates, which Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully floated last year.
Humphries blames Evers for problems with the current report cards, saying he built a faulty system that has forced the Legislature to repeatedly tweak it, and unilaterally sets the scores that determine schools’ grades.
Evers said scores are determined with extensive input from education experts and stakeholders and that information about them is readily available on the DPI website. He noted that three of the four co-chairs of the original committee that developed the report cards were Republican legislators.