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It was an unusually balmy 23-degrees on Jan. 1 when 32 thrill-seekers braved the freezing waters of Long Lake for the 24th annual Polar Plunge hosted by Harbor View. A total of $4,500 was raised between pledges and raffles held during the day, and it will go toward maintenance of the new Forward Elk Lake Park Splash Pad in Phillips.

— Photos by Anna Maria Hansen

Price County gets new voting machines

When Price County voters head to polls for the Feb. 18 spring primary, they will find new voting machines at all 19 polling locations in the county.

Unlike the paper-free touchscreen machines used in the past, these machines will use paper ballots and every ballot cast will need to be entered into the machine. Using optical scanners, the machine will automatically count each and store it in a locked and sealed interior compartment.

The machines come with several built-in safeguards, from locks and seals to an internal computer log of every time the machine's interior compartment is opened.

The process itself will be simple and quick for voters, according to county clerk Jean Gottwald. Voters will fill out their paper ballot, and then insert it into the machine. It takes approximately six seconds for the machine to process the ballot, helping prevent long waiting lines.

The format of the ballot itself will remain very similar to ballots seen in the past by Price County voters.

The machines also come with functions to assist handicapped voters.

The 19 new machines — coming in at a total cost of $146,338 for the county — have replaced all 30 of the now obsolete touchscreen machines that were first

introduced in Price County in 2006. The county decided it needed to replace the outdated machines back in August 2019, when it became apparent that there were no longer any vendors who could repair or service the machines.

The expected lifespan of the new machines is a minimum of 10 years, although Gottwald said it is likely the machines will last longer.

The automated counting process in the machines will be a welcome change for poll workers, who sometimes find themselves working late into the night to hand-count all the paper ballots, according to Gottwald.

Town clerks from all over Price County, as well as poll-workers, had the opportunity to see the new machines in action in early December. Trial runs were conducted on all the machines to make sure clerks and election officials could effectively operate them come election day.

DPI: Phillips Schools meeting expectations
Staff working to improve students' proficiency

The Phillips School District is overall meeting the state's educational expectations, according to the school report cards released annually by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Each school — elementary, middle, and high, as well as the overall district — received a report card for the 2018-19 school year, evaluating where the district is doing well and where it needs improvement.

The report cards take into account student achievement, district growth, closing gaps, and on-track and postsecondary readiness.

Student achievement measures the performance of students' reading, writing, and mathematics scores in statewide standardized testing over three years. According to DPI, districts can use this data to uncover short-term trends and compare against state averages.

School growth measures how rapidly students are gaining knowledge and skills from year to year, compared to the growth of similar students in other Wisconsin schools. This data is also gleaned from standardized testing.

Closing gaps indicates to what extent schools are succeeding in helping lagging students catch up, focusing on achievement gaps in English Language Arts and mathematics, and graduation gaps. The score is based on student groups — not the entire student body. Credit is given to districts for raising test scores and graduation rates for target groups faster than their statewide comparison groups.

On-track and postsecondary readiness indicates how successfully students are achieving educational milestones that predict postsecondary readiness. It measures graduation rates and attendance rates, third grade ELA achievement and/or eighth grade mathematics achievement.

Student achievement and school growth may weigh more heavily in different districts based on the number of low-income students each district has. Greater weight is given to growth in districts with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students, and less weight is given to student achievement. In districts with lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students, greater weight is given to student achievement and less to growth. This is used as a means of balancing out the scores of school districts across the state.

Of Phillips School District's 759 students in 2018-19, 49%

were considered economically disadvantaged.

The report cards also measure chronic absenteeism (students who have attendance rates below 84%) and dropout rate. Phillips School District easily met the goals set by the state in these categories, which calls for less that 13% of absenteeism and less than 6% of student dropout. Phillips has a one-year rate of 3.1% absenteeism and .6% dropout.

The district scored 69.9 out of 100, falling into the "meets expectations" category. Both the elementary and high schools met expectations with scores of 68.4 and 70, respectively, while the middle school exceeded expectations with a score of 74.7.

For the district's score of 69.9, student achievement contributed 15.7% to the score, district growth contributed 34.3%, and closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness contributing 25% each.

All three of the district's schools scored higher than the state in the on-track and postsecondary readiness category. The elementary also outscored the state in student achievement, but lagged in school growth and closing gaps. The middle school surpassed the state score in all areas except student achievement, where it scored 60.9 to the state's 61.3. The high school scored slightly lower than the state in student achievement, school growth, and closing gaps.

Assessment data

The results of standardized tests conducted in the Phillips School District during the 2018-19 school year provide a glimpse into what students are learning in the classroom. DPI notes that a single test cannot reveal whether students have learned everything it is important for them to learn, and states that additional evidence should be reviewed for a complete picture of students' knowledge.

Students in third through eighth grade took the Forward Exam, which primarily tests students' knowledge of English Language Arts and mathematics. Some grades were also tested in science and social studies. Ninth and 10th graders took the ACT Aspire, with 10th graders also taking the Forward Exam social studies test. The ACT was used to test 11th graders.

Only 30.4% of Phillips third graders were classed as proficient in ELA, compared to the state's 39.6%. In math, 60.7% of Phillips third graders outscored the state's 50.6% in proficiency.

Phillips fourth graders reached the same levels of proficiency as the state — 43.8% — in ELA, outperforming the state in math with 56.3% proficiency to the state's 46.4% proficiency. Fourth graders were also tested in science, where 64.6% were determined to be proficient — higher than the state's 53.8%. The percentage of Phillips fourth graders proficient in social studies also surpassed the state's 53.5% at 58.3%.

Phillips fifth graders lagged behind the state in ELA, with only 32.5% of students deemed proficient, compared to 41% at the state level. The percentage of Phillips students proficient in math reached 70%, while only 47.9% are proficient statewide.

Advanced groups of PES students in third, fourth, and fifth grade all scored below the state in ELA and math proficiency. Third grade lagged 3.9% behind the state in ELA and 2.1% behind in math. Fourth grade was 2.9% behind the state in ELA and 2.4% in math. Fifth grade was 6% behind the state in ELA and 2% in math.

A total of 35% of Phillips sixth graders were deemed proficient in ELA (41.7% statewide), while 45% were proficient in math (43.5% statewide).

The percentage of proficient seventh graders dipped to 37.5% in ELA (45.6% statewide) and 28.6% in math (39.7% statewide).

Proficient eighth graders in Phillips exceeded the state's percentages in ELA, math, science, and social studies. In ELA, 51.9% were proficient in Phillips (37.3% statewide); 44.4% were proficient in math (36.4% statewide); 68.5% were proficient in science (54.2% statewide); and 59.3% were proficient in social studies (52.1% statewide).

Advanced students in sixth through eighth grade all lagged behind the state in proficiency in ELA and math. Advanced sixth grade were 4.4% less proficient than the state in ELA, and 3.7% less proficient in math. Advanced seventh graders were 8% less proficient than the state in ELA, and 1.4% less proficient in math. Advanced eighth graders were 2.7% less proficient than the state in ELA, and 8.2% less proficient in math.

On the ACT Aspire test, 43.8% ninth graders were proficient in DPI ELA (42.9% statewide); 42.8% were proficient in DPI math (44.8% statewide); 56.4% were proficient in english (58.5% statewide); 43.6% were proficient in math (45.2% statewide); 36.4% were proficient in reading (39.5% statewide); and 34.6% were proficient in science (36.7% statewide).

Advanced ninth graders in Phillips were 0.8% more proficient than the state in ELA; 2% less proficient in math; 5.6% more proficient in english; 2% less proficient in math; 8.8% less proficient in reading; and 1.3% less proficient in science.

Also testing with the ACT Aspire, 26.8% of 10th graders were proficient in DPI ELA (40.4% statewide); 35.8% were proficient in DPI math (37.3% statewide); 50.9% were proficient in english (58.5% statewide); 36.4% were proficient in math (37.5% statewide); 27.3% were proficient in reading (32.9% statewide); 29.1% were proficient in science (35.6% statewide); and 46.4% were proficient in social studies (35.6% statewide).

Advanced 10th graders lagged behind the state in proficiency in the majority of subjects tested; 1% less proficient in ELA; 4.2% less proficient in math (DPI); 6.7% less proficient in english; 9.8% less proficient in math; 4.7% less proficient in reading; 1.4% less proficient in science; and 1.8% more proficient in social studies.

On the ACT test, 32.7% of Phillips 11th graders were deemed proficient in ELA (38% statewide); 20% were proficient in math (30% statewide); and 21.8% were proficient in science (31.9% statewide).

Phillips 11th graders' average scores were slightly below the state in every subject tested, although several subjects including ELA, english, writing, and science were all less than a point away from the state's average score. Reading was 1.2 points lower than the state, math was 1.5 points lower, STEM was 1.3 points lower, and composite subjects were 1.1 points lower.

The ACT determined that the majority of Phillips 11th graders are below college ready in all subjects tested. Of the 11th graders who took the test in Phillips, only 32.7% were deemed college ready in ELA; 45.5% in english; 30.9% in reading; 20% in math; 21.8% in science; and 7.3% in STEM.

District taking action to improve

The district has already taken action following review of the assessment data, which was shared with teachers during inservice days earlier in the school year. In addition to the testing data shown above, teachers were provided with a variety of other measurements of student learning, including classroom grades, grade point averages, and data for younger students.

Two groups of students received particular focus — those who are only a few points away from attaining proficiency and those who are near the advanced level.

According to Director of Pupil Services Vicki Lemke, there are several students in each grade level whose scores are only a few points away from attaining proficiency.

"We looked at kids that could slide between proficient and non-proficient. Those are the kids that teachers could really impact," said Lemke. "We want to make sure we take those students and push them up to the proficiency level."

In order to meet this goal, these students have been identified in each grade level for their teachers. The students themselves are unaware that they have been identified, but it is hoped that the extra help from teachers will boost these students into the proficiency level.

District staff in the elementary, middle school, and high school also considered certain aspects of education that could be done differently or better in the district.

Based on those conversations, several ideas came to the forefront.

These include methods to possibly improve the testing environment, from creating small groups of students during testing to introducing incentives to encourage students to perform better on assessments.

The list also included broader educational needs — such as reviewing the curriculum and creating higher level Depth of Knowledge lessons, as well as keeping manageable classroom sizes — and workplace changes such as allowing teachers more time to collaborate with colleagues and using inservice time to provide teacher training that would support academic goals. How to engage parents in the teaching process was also considered.

Without a Gifted and Talented program in the district, staff also considered how to best support advanced students on their learning journeys.

These ideas, along with the assessment data, will likely be discussed by the Phillips School Board at their regular meeting on Jan. 20.

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