Washington County schools received their report cards Wednesday.
The Nebraska Department of Education released test scores and performance ratings for the state's school accountability system, AQuESTT, which classifies districts and individual schools in one of four categories: Excellent, Great, Good or Needs Improvement.
A breakdown of preliminary classification indicated 129 — or 12 percent — of schools were classified as excellent, 468 (42 percent) were great, 370 (33 percent) were good and 139 (13 percent) were designated as needs improvement.
Fort Calhoun Community Schools (FCCS) received an excellent rating after receiving a great rating for 2017-18, while Arlington Public Schools (APS) and Blair Community Schools (BCS) received great ratings for the second straight year.
The classifications are calculated in part by averaging Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System and ACT scores across all available grade levels and subjects.
Other measures of student success include graduation rates, progress for English Language Learners and reduction in chronic absenteeism.
Supt. Don Johnson credits principals Drew Wagner and Jerry Green and their staff for Fort Calhoun's improvement from great to excellent.
“I've got good building administrators who make it a priority to really work with kids and to help them test to the best of their abilities and a great staff that follows that,” he said.
In 2017-18 school year, each level for Fort Calhoun — elementary, middle school and high school — was listed as great. For 2018-19, the middle school and high school improved to excellent, while the elementary remained at great.
FCCS saw 71 percent of its students see individual score growth on its assessments.
High score levels, Johnson said, draw students to FCCS.
“Not only that they just see good buildings, they see the scores,” he said. “The other things that draws kids to us is the amount of college credits they can receive. That's a big deal. We draw them both from Blair and OPS.”
BCS' rating remained at great, however, the district saw improvement at one building — Arbor Park Intermediate School, which had been rated good a year ago.
Dani Ladwig, director of curriculum and instruction for the district, attributed the improvement to the district's implementation of professional learning communities (PLCs) in the 2017-18 school year.
“Teacher teams are focusing in on our essential learning standards and aligning assessments to those standards to determine if students learned the essential content,” Ladwig said. “Teachers are collaborating during PLCs and sharing best practice which improves all instruction.
“We made nice gains, but still have room for improvement and we will continue to be laser focused in the pursuit of increasing student achievement,” she added.
Additional changes for the 2019-20 school year include more instructional time in language arts, math and science in grades 6-8 and in reading in math in grades 3-5, Ladwig said.
While APS' rating remained at great, the district saw its high school rating drop from great to good.
Supt. Dawn Lewis said that, on the surface, it would be easy to say that the juniors ACT scores on the day of the statewide ACT administration were lower than 2017-18.
“But there are many factors that contribute to the ranking handed out by the state,” she said. “It can be a challenge to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.”
The state collects less assessment-related data at the high school level than elementary and middle school with only the junior class members being assessed. The ranking also includes the other six factors.
“What is most important to bear in mind is the good ranking, as with all of the rankings, is a combination of a wide variety of data points,” Lewis said. “We will attempt to address all of these tenets and areas of success and/or concern as we prepare for the 2019-20 data season.”