State of the Schools: GIPS Results and Rankings

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Nebraska's education commissioner, Roger Breed, got to brag a bit Tuesday morning when he released the first-ever rankings of school districts under the new Nebraska Performance Accountability System, or NePAS.

The state showed increased graduation rates, and most of the state's 249 districts showed improvement and growth.

Grand Island Public Schools also had similar overall changes, but a closer look at the results shows that GIPS ranked low in reading and science and slightly below average in math and writing. In fact, GIPS ranked 211 out of 249 districts in reading, and 239 out of 249 in science.

"There's clearly some areas that we need to do some work in, and we recognize that. We don't shy away from that," said GIPS superintendent Robert Winters.

Several Grand Island schools also did not meet their yearly progress goals, but officials said that's because the results are based on test scores of more than 100 sub-groups of students.

"Maybe we didn't make it in one of our subsets of students, or two or three. So you get the "Not Met," but that's not an indicator at all of the great things that are going on within the walls of that particular school," Winters said.

The rankings and results even surprised some GIPS teachers.

"The district as a whole, I was a little shocked. I thought they'd be a little higher than what they were," said Wasmer Elementary teacher Tom Hake.

But officials said the results don't necessarily mean GIPS is performing poorly. In fact, the district said it showed positive improvement and growth, which means students are doing better and scoring higher on assessments.

"We absolutely continue to work daily to find the most effective ways we can impact our kids and their student learning," Winters added.

As for improvements, district officials said additions such as new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) labs and courses are in place to make sure GIPS students excel and do better starting this year.

"What we focus on in the end of the day is that areas of growth, the area of improvement, where our kids were and are we improving," Winters said.

Graduation rates were also up, which officials said are due in part to increased efforts.

"We've implemented several programs. Our ombudsman program, our Skills Academy, our after-school credit recovery, our summer school has been more intensive," explained Robin Dexter, associate superintendent of GIPS. "We're looking at credits. Do you have the credits to graduate, not just necessarily have you sat in the seat long enough?"

Elsewhere in central Nebraska, Kearney Public Schools ranked above average in reading and writing and just below average in math and science. And Hastings Public Schools ranked above average in writing, but below average in the other categories.

Commissioner Breed emphasized that the rankings are simply data, noting that "different schools have different challenges, so ranking comparisons should look at schools with similar challenges."