LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

After a two-year break, school report cards in Wisconsin are back.

The state made changes to the original report card and recently released the cards and the new grading formula.

The report cards rank both school districts and individual schools throughout the state.

“It's a huge project the state has taken on to mitigate factors that school districts, educators, boards of education have said for years, that you can't compare a school that has a different demographic with another school that's completely different,” said Roger Fruit, director of instructional services in the Onalaska School District.

This year, the new state report cards have created a weighted formula that allows schools with higher poverty rates to be scored differently.

“Now, student achievement and student growth ... depending on free and reduced lunch status ... a different weighting is applied based on that,” said Fruit.

The formula assumes schools with a high poverty rate will have students who won't perform as well on the annual standardized test. Therefore, schools with high poverty and high achievement are negatively affected.

“In La Crosse, we perform above the state average on the test. However, we have a higher free and reduced population than many of our surrounding areas,” said Michael Lichucki, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in the La Crosse School District.

The weighted formula works on a sliding scale. Schools with a free and reduced-priced lunch rate from 35 percent to 65 percent will have a higher percentage of their score based on student growth and less of their score based on student achievement.

Student growth is measured when you compare student performance on one test from one school year to the next.

Student achievement is based on how a school district's students performed on one test.

“And there are some unintended consequences coming out of that,” said Fruit.

“So, we actually saw schools that generally do well on state report cards not do as well, because their achievement wasn't counted the same,” said Lichucki. “So, that's a difficult pill to swallow.”

The La Crosse School District received two out of five stars on the new school report card.

“We will fall in the category of 'meets few expectations,'” said Lichucki.

Several of the district's schools, however, do meet or exceed expectations, but there are a couple of schools with high poverty rates that have been given lower scores. The district feels the new weighted formula is part of the reason.

“So some of our schools in La Crosse, we have free and reduced population of 80 percent,” said Lichucki. “The way the formula works, 90 percent of our achievement data, of how we're evaluated, comes from growth and only 10 percent comes from actual achievement.”

Lichuki says spreading out the weighted formula to account for schools that have a free and reduced-priced lunch rate higher than 65 percent may be more fair.

“I would like to see it not cut at 65 percent,” said Lichucki. “Sixty-five percent free and reduced lunch population compared to an 80 percent free and reduced lunch is a great deal in the dynamics of a school.”

Whether or not an adjustment is made to the new weighted formula, Lichucki says it's important to look beyond the report card.

“Look at your individual school and the great people that work with your children,” said Lichucki. “There are great things going on that aren't reflected by a single calculation.”

You can research school districts from throughout the state by going to dpi.wi.gov/accountability/report-cards.

DistrictFree/Reduced LunchScore
Bangor34.8 percent4 stars
Holmen27.4 percent4 stars
La Crosse48.7 percent2 stars
Onalaska29.9 percent4 stars
West Salem22.6 percent5 stars