PdC School ranked among WI best

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By Steve Van Kooten


Prairie du Chien High School Principal Doug Morris stood in the cafeteria at 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning. The halls that reached into the building’s guts were still and silent. A snicker would’ve been deafening, except there wasn’t a student or teacher to make one. It was the scene of a ghost town without the tumbleweed to aimlessly roll through.

“How many kids do see in the hallway?” Morris asked. His voice reverberated against the stiff walls, as if a sound—any sound—startled them. “That’s right. They’re all in the classroom, learning.”

A few hours earlier, Morris, along with Assistant Principal Mike Bennett, a teacher, a police officer and a student stood at the front door of the school and shook each student’s hand as they entered.  More than 300 students piled into the cafeteria for breakfast, but there was no sign of them. Not even “Croatoan” carved into a tree trunk. Instead, there were laminated posters of expectations hung from the walls outside rooms.

“These kids need to know that we love them, and with that comes expectations,” Morris said as he stood in front of the cafeteria’s posted rules. “We’re holding kids accountable to these expectations.”

Morris and his faculty have backed up his claims. At the end of August, Prairie du Chien High School was recognized by the US News and World Report’s 2023-24 Best High School Ranking, an annual list that aggregates statistical information to determine school performance. The hard work paid off for the school, which attained number 38 in Wisconsin ranking and 1,415 nationally. Those numbers put the high school in the top six percent for the state and eight percent in the country.

“We haven’t been ranked before,” Morris stated, “so this is huge news. That news is unprecedented in this town.”

The Best High School Ranking by US News started in 2007, an off-shoot of their influential college and graduate school lists. The high school ranking has been released from 2007-09, then 2012-23. For the 2023-24 ranking, data was accumulated from more than 25,000 schools, of which 17, 680 were given a ranking. Unranked schools were primarily caused from a “lack of publicly available data” according to the US News’ website.

Data for the list required a school to qualify with a Grade 12 enrollment of 15 students or more in the 2020-21 school year. The 2023-24 ranking were based on data from the 2020-21 and 2018-19 school years. US News sourced data from the US Department of Education’s Common Core of Data website, statewide standardized test results, high school graduation rates, the College Board of Advanced Placement examination data and the International Baccalaureate for IB examination data.

Prairie du Chien High School’s score was compiled from data in six categories: College Readiness, College Curriculum Breadth, Student Assessment Performance, Underserved Student Performance and Graduation Rate. Weighted scores from each categories were summed to get a combined score for ranking. Prairie’s school scored a combined 92 out of 100.


The Data

In a breakdown of Prairie du Chien’s ranking released by US News, the school scored 47.2 out of 100 points on the College Readiness Index, which carries a 30 percent weight for the school’s total score. The category was assessed through the percentage of Grade 12 students who took at least one Advanced Placement (AP) test, and the percentage of students who obtained a qualifying score on exams taken. 80 percent of students took an AP exam in 2020-21 with 46 percent obtaining a qualifying score with a pass rate of 40 percent.

The second category, College Curriculum Breadth Index, calculated the number of students who took and earned qualifying score on multiple AP exams. The category had a 10 percent weight.

The third category, State Assessment Proficiency, carried a 20 percent weight and complied scores from standardized tests in math, science and reading from the student body. Prairie’s performance showed the student body out-performed the rest of the state in reading (38 percent vs. 30 percent) and science (33 percent vs. 30 percent); however, Prairie students fell just below the state average in mathematics (29 percent vs. 30 percent).

State Assessment Performance, weighted at 20 percent, compared standardized test scores across the state and nation in terms of demographic data. Prairie had a diversity index of 92 percent white students and 8 percent minorities, 47 percent female and 53 percent men, and a total Economic Disadvantage rating of 40 percent.

For the Underserved Student Performance category, weighted at 10 percent, test scores from nationally recognized disadvantaged populations, including racial groups and low-income families were examined comparatively with state numbers. Results showed Prairie’s under served population outperformed the state average by 0.7 percent.

The last category, Graduation Rate, weighted at 10 percent of the school’s score, and Prairie du Chien tied for first in both the state and national ranking, with a graduation rate of 100 percent. The stat was determined by the number of students that graduated in 2021 from the 2017-18 freshman class.


Built for the Future

The recognition has been gratifying for Morris; however, there’s much more to the result than a badge to put on the school’s website and news releases.

“This is one set of data: we get a school report card every year from DPI [Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction], and last year we got a report based on that data,” Morris said. “According to just that, we’re in the top 30 percent in the state.”

Plans have been made for the school district going forward. Morris has designs to build a school that will continue to succeed; they won’t rest on their laurels. In his office, Morris huddled in front of his computer screen, like it was small window to take a peek at the future.

“Our focus this year is all on growth,” Morris said. The plan is to improve in every area for both the students and the faculty. “Our kids are performing above average, but we want to do better.”

Morris pointed at the school’s many programs to assist students, including Credit Recovery, directed instruction flex times for students and teachers to request additional time for student success, and increased response interventions to ascertain and solve problems. Along with intervention programs, the school has invested in advanced placement partnerships with other schools to foster further student success.

In an article from Southwest Technical College in Fennimore, WI, Josie Eastman, 18 of Prairie du Chien, was recognized for graduating from Prairie du Chien High School with 32 college credits obtained from taking dual credit courses before graduation. Additionally, six students were nationally recognized by the College Board of Advanced Placement for outstanding academic performance while in high school.

“I’ve got ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they’re so prepared. These kids are phenomenal,” Morris stated.

In the classrooms, students sat elbow-to-elbow, engaged with teachers in the material. Morris stood in two English classes to survey students in their element; the grounds where their success is shaped in small steps each day. The school is a complex set of mechanism that can breakdown, grind to a halt and fail the system if not maintained. Morris has taken the ranking from US News as an encouraging sign that standards-based academic goals work for students.

“We want a campus plan that is data-driven, not based on emotions,” Morris said. “Our teachers are great at presenting the data, now we just need to get our kids to use it.” In short, Morris wanted facts to make decisions, and it’s a fact that Prairie du Chien High School has, by the numbers, made an exceptional grade.

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