The reports released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction show that the vast majority -- 82 percent of schools and 91 percent of districts -- scored three or more stars, meaning they met or exceeded expectations.
The state's largest district, Milwaukee Public Schools, has struggled with student achievement for years and this year received a two-star ranking, which means it met few expectations. It was one of 33 districts in that ranking.
But Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver says they are moving in the right direction.
The ratings are based on four areas: student achievement in English language arts and math; student growth; closing gaps between student groups; and measuring readiness for graduation and postsecondary success.
MPS scored lower than the state's score in all four categories.
"We know we have a lot of work to do in terms of our graduation rates, absenteeism," said Driver. "As much as we've improved the number of schools that didn't receive deductions, we still know that absenteeism is something we have to put a lot of energy into."
Driver says she believes that will help boost momentum.
"We know we have to continue until we're at 100 percent proficiency across the board for all of our kids," she said.
Also of note in the report cards, Wauwatosa School District has the top performing elementary school in the state, Wauwatosa STEM.
"I think there's great staff, great teachers. great principal and parents that really support what's going on," said Wauwatosa Superintendent of Schools Phil Ertl.
He says overall, their district is performing very well but there's still room for improvement.
"We really try to target growth and how our students improve, not necessarily how they come in, but how they improve over time," he said.
Wauwatosa joins several other area districts in the Exceeds Expectations category including Oak Creek-Franklin, Menomonee Falls, Glendale-River Hills and Mukwonago.
Many local districts fell into the Meets Expectations category including West Allis, South Milwaukee, Waukesha, Kenosha and Sheboygan Area.
Five school districts in Wisconsin were given failing grades including Racine, Bayfield, Cambria-Friesland, Cassville and Menominee Indian.
A statement from the Racine Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Lolli Haws reads:
"This report card reflects last year's data and also the first results for the new state assessment. We know we have work to do. And we're doing it. We have spent the last three years focused on improving our MAP scores, continuously increasing our graduation rate and transforming our high schools into the Academies of Racine. I'm confident in the future of this District.
Let's remember - one score does not tell the story of the excellent teaching and learning happening in our schools. We are also celebrating excellent report card results at many of our schools like Wadewitz Elementary, Jefferson Lighthouse, Walden III, Bull Fine Arts and others."
Schools have to be in the lowest category for two consecutive years before they face any sanctions.
The vastly overhauled rating system and performance measurements for 2,341 individual schools and 424 districts are back after a one-year absence. There were no report cards last year while the state transitioned from the Badger Exam to the Forward Exam and the Legislature made a host of other changes to how performance data is interpreted and reported.
As a result, the Department of Public Instruction advises it would be "inaccurate and inadvisable" to compare the latest data to that of previous years.
"The system is significantly different, measures different things and values different things than our past report cards," said DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy.
This is also the first year that data was collected from the 227 private schools participating in the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide choice program. Under that program, parents can use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. But those schools are not included in this year's data because the report cards are generated from at least two years' worth of information.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) reacted to the news today saying in a statement:
"I’m encouraged by the progress made in the Milwaukee Public Schools under the leadership of Dr. Darienne Driver. However, the report cards also show nearly 25,000 kids are still trapped in failing schools. That’s a larger population than the cities of Watertown, Mequon, or South Milwaukee.
I will continue to work on ways to make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a great school. Parents and children in MPS shouldn’t be forced to wait any longer."
Whitefish Bay was one of few area districts to score the highest possible rating, five out of five stars.
Dr. John Thomsen, district administrator for Whitefish Bay said in a statement:
"We are proud of this achievement and believe it reflects the longstanding collective commitment to excellence by the entire Whitefish Bay school community as well as the Whitefish Bay community as a whole. And we're equally committed to ensuring our students are equipped with relevant and transferable 21st century skills and that we nurture a supportive environment that addresses the whole child. We work with our kids and engage them in deep learning and help them find their passion."