Friday, February 5, 2016

Successful P4J Enrollment and Development Days!

Angela Lynch, Preschool 4 Janesville (P4J) Coordinator; 
Culturally Responsive Practices Coordinator; and,
Family Resource Center (FRC) Coordinator

We had an exciting week at the Educational Services Center (ESC) this week! Child Development Days was held along with P4J enrollment. 

Each year Child Development Days offers families with children 2 ½ -5 years of age an opportunity to have their child screened if they have concerns about their development. We are able to identify children with delays and disabilities and refer them for the supports they may need. This year we screened 88 children. Eleven of those children are being referred for further evaluation. 

P4J enrollment also began on February 1st for the 2016-17 school year. Families are able to come to enroll their children that will turn 4 before September 1 of 2016 for our P4J 4-yr-old Kindergarten program. Families come this early to secure a spot at the P4J site of their choice. We have 21 P4J sites available for families to choose from. By the end of the day on Friday, February 5th we had 278 children enrolled for next school year. 

Special thanks to:

Tracy Schenk for her proactive leadership with Child Development Days; Cindi Seichter, Sherry Rautenberg, Peggy Karleski, Stacey Jordan, Isabel Hernandez, and Gayle Holcomb for their outstanding assistance with the enrollment of the 278 P4J students; all of the other ESC secretaries that jumped in to help out with enrollment; and Alberto Cervantes for his many hours of assistance with interpretation for our families that speak Spanish as their first language. 

We would also like to thank Birth-to-3 and Head Start for participating in our Child Development Days. In addition we’d like to thank Jesus Cervantes and Karla Snyder for interpreting for our Spanish speaking families. Also, a thank you goes out to our Early Childhood and P4J teachers as well as our Speech and Language Pathologists for assisting with Child Development Days screenings. It was a tremendous week!

It's not too late!

If you missed this week’s events, don't worry, it is never too late for enrollment or development screenings!  Please feel free to enroll your student for the P4J program anytime during normal business hours, Monday through Friday from 7:30am-4:30pm (summer hours are different) at the Educational Services Center downtown Janesville or call 608-743-5153.  For questions or appointments for developmental screenings please call Tracy Schenk at 608-743-5043.  We look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What Does 21st Century Learning Look Like?

Nicole Andresen, Innovative Learning Specialist

Virtual Lessons bring the world to the classroom and open new windows to the outside for our students.  This week, first graders at Jefferson Elementary were able to speak virtually with instructors from the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. They received instruction about the African Penguin from one of the academy’s experts and witnessed the Penguins swimming live.

A couple weeks prior to this lesson, first graders received a stuffed penguin in the mail requesting special care for him.  They immediately began researching and designing a penguin habitat suitable for him at Jefferson.

The students' research assisted them with specific questions they had about penguins and during the virtual lesson with the expert, students were able to ask and receive answers to their questions.  The teachers and I were so impressed at the fabulous questions the students asked our virtual expert! The information gleaned provided some great information for the continuation of our penguin unit. 

This was one of the most effective virtual lessons I've conducted. The degree of interaction and the level of knowledge that the presenter was able to communicate completely benefited our students and reinforced the teaching they had already been receiving in class. Each student was engaged as they listened, answered, and even demonstrated penguin habits like waddling and swimming.  The greatest moment came when one of our students, who rarely spoke in kindergarten, stood up and asked a question of the presenter. Such an amazing experience!

The types of experiences are a part of 21st Century Learning. These connections made through video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Cisco Jabber help to expand the learning environment by offering students a virtual window to a real world outside of their community.  

Content for these virtual lessons can be chosen to align with your curriculum and enrich the lessons with relevancy. With virtual connections, you eliminate time and distance.  You are able to tap into experts in that subject matter.  Students become more engaged and the relevancy solidifies the retention of information and content.

The people and places that can be accessed and leveraged using these types of connections are numerous.  Places like NASA and Yellowstone National Park have staff and content dedicated to educational presentations and experiences.  These connections allow teachers to create new experiences that, in the past, were not possible for some students. This technology is redefining the learning experiences of our students.

Think about how you could open windows to the world, right from your classroom by speaking with marine biologists, professors, authors, scientists, archaeologists, mathematicians, actors, athletes, and more. Teachers, talk to your Innovation Specialist or look for classes to be posted on My Learning Plan. Parents, talk to your student's teacher about opportunities you may be aware of to offer virtual lessons. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Assessments Showing Positive Student Achievement

Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Instruction and
Amy Sheridan, District Assessment Coordinator

Last spring, students in grades three through eight in the School District of Janesville took the new state achievement test in English Language Arts and Mathematics known as the Badger Exam. Students with significant cognitive disabilities took the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) assessments. Both of these new online assessments are more rigorous measures of our students’ academic performance. These new assessments replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE) and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (WAA-SwD).
For the first time, all 11th-grade students in the School District of Janesville took the ACT, which replaced the 10th-grade Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. This is the same ACT assessment that students nationwide take as a college admissions exam and has a solid foundation in measuring college and career readiness. Historically, about 58 percent of SDJ students have taken the ACT. A small percentage of our juniors took the Dynamic Learning Maps assessment, which measures the academic progress of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Typically, results from the state test guide the district in school improvement planning, identifying where we need to focus and improve, as well as where we can celebrate the growth and achievement of our students.  The results are also reported in proficiency categories and used for accountability determinations at the school, district and state levels, as required by state and federal laws.  Federal requirements are to test at least 95% of all students in the specified grade levels.  The School District of Janesville’s overall test participation rate was 98.5%.  

The Badger Exam was designed to compare a student’s achievement against a new set of standards, skill levels, and areas of knowledge known as the Common Core State Standards.  The Science and Social Studies tests (also given last school year) are aligned to the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards.  Teachers have been working diligently with balancing the two different sets of standards into their instruction as we prepare for these assessments.

Considerable controversy erupted last spring with the rocky rollout of the new test resulting in widespread criticism from parents, school officials, and state policy makers.  This reaction eventually resulted in Governor Walker signing a bill last May prohibiting the use of the Badger Exam results for school accountability purposes. Specific criticisms centered on the test development, problems associated with technical features not working as promised, and the content of the test. Another significant outcry centered on the extreme length of the test. All of these factors contributed to the demise of the Badger Exam and called for a new test to be developed for administration in the spring of 2016.

Overall, the School District of Janesville had assessed 4,092 students on the Badger and Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) exams in grades three through eight. Among those students, preliminary results indicate that 50.7 percent of students were proficient or advanced in English Language Arts compared to 51.2 percent at the state level. In Mathematics, 37.4 percent of students were proficient or advanced compared to 43.7 percent statewide.  More detailed results will be forthcoming including school, grade level, and sub-group scores when the DPI certifies this information. The DPI has indicated they need more time with the data to ensure accuracy of the information. 

At 11th grade, 781 students took the ACT or DLM. The ACT is the same college admissions exam taken by students nationwide. The DLM is an alternate assessment given to Wisconsin students with severe cognitive disabilities and is used in grades three through 11. Overall preliminary results show 37.4 percent of School District of Janesville students achieved at the proficient or advanced performance levels in English Language Arts compared to 45.7 percent statewide. In Mathematics, 27 percent were proficient or advanced compared to 35.9 percent of juniors statewide. 

Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment noted that the district previously was able to make use of the state testing data (WSAS) as a strategic tool for school improvement; however the new Badger Exam data presents a number of unique challenges associated with this effort.  For example, the 2014-15 assessments were taken in the spring (rather than the fall), the Badger Exam tests different standards, uses different cut scores, and combines reading and language arts into one score rather than separating the disciplines. All of these factors make valid comparisons to previous years’ data not possible.  It would be like trying to compare “apples to oranges.” Also, the length and style of test administration were very different from the WKCE test.  

The situation only gets more confusing this spring (2016) when students in the state of Wisconsin will take yet a different test other than the outlawed Badger test.  This will mark the third new test in three years. Given this precarious state of affairs in state testing, it is important to continue to collect solid and consistent evidence that students in the School District of Janesville are learning. For that reason, the district is using another shorter assessment to chart more consistent student learning trends over time. This new assessment is called the STAR assessment.

The STAR assessment measures student performance and growth in reading and math and is given three times a year—fall, winter and spring.  Growth data from the STAR assessment has been incorporated into individual School Improvement Plans, Board of Education goals and individual teacher evaluation goals. Preliminary winter STAR data is very positive especially in the area of math. While the Badger Test is a “one and done assessment,” the district will still look carefully at what we can glean from that data to ensure that students are making the expected achievement in math, reading, and on the ACT.

Continued efforts at the high school level need to stay focused on improving ACT performance for all students—we can do better! The expansion of Advanced Placement courses and the increased number of students taking those courses is a very hopeful sign and positive step.  In addition, the increased rigor of the secondary math curriculum and the new district STEM Initiative should yield better future test results. Since the DPI is continuing to “crunch” the current test data, additional information including specific sub-group scores and individual school reports will be forthcoming. When this data becomes available, the district will review the information and make changes and improvements as necessary. 

The DPI has signed a six-year contract with Data Recognition Corporation for the development of the new Forward Wisconsin Exam.  The DPI has indicated that the new exam will be a customized exam with test items developed and reviewed by Wisconsin educators.  Since the new Forward Wisconsin Exam is unique to Wisconsin, our state will not be able to compare testing results from those of other states.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015-2016 Inclement Weather Update

As the 2015-2016 winter season has arrived, the School District of Janesville would like to remind families of the procedures for weather related school closings. You may have seen the recent report by the Madison Area Schools of a change in their policy related to low temperatures and wind chill conditions. Our policy considers not only a specific temperature, but additional factors, as well, when making a decision to delay or to close school.

The School District of Janesville Policy (5462.1) defines inclement weather as:
  1. Snow accumulations of 5 inches or more immediately prior to the beginning of a school day.
  2. Snow accumulations of 2 inches with a forecast of 4 inches or more during the balance of the day.
  3. Drifting snow to depths that prevent safe travel of school buses, city buses and private transportation.
  4. Severe ice conditions that create a hazard to safe travel.
  5. Severe low temperature or wind chill conditions. 
  6. Declaration of a weather safety emergency by state or local government.

If one of more of conditions listed are present (or considered highly likely) by meteorologist consults, closings or delays will be evaluated in cooperation with the Van Galder Bus Company, the Janesville Transit System, school district maintenance and transportation managers and other district administrators.  The final decision to delay or close rests with me, the Superintendent.

Ultimately, parents always have the option of keeping their child home due to inclement weather. Your student will receive a Principal excused absence. Parents or guardians must call the school your student attends to report the decision to keep them home.

If a determination to close or delay is made, notifications will be sent to the following sources either the night before a closing may occur, or no later than 6:00 a.m. if predictions change:

  1. Media outlets including WCLO and other radio and TV Stations;
  2. The District Facebook Page and main page of the District Website; and
  3. Parents/guardians will be notified via our Campus Messenger system by the method you have selected on your student’s Infinite Campus account (found under Contact Preferences).

Other items to note regarding closings and delays:

  • If there is no school for the School District of Janesville, all Preschool 4 Janesville (P4J) classrooms that are located within the School District of Janesville Elementary School locations will not have school.  If there is a school delay, all Early Childhood Special Education and all P4J sites in school district buildings will NOT have morning session, but afternoon sessions will have class as normal. For all other P4J sites NOT located within SDJ buildings, please contact that site directly regarding closings and delays.
  • If there is a one hour delay:  Elementary School classes will begin at 9:20 a.m. and middle and high school classes will begin at 9:00 a.m.  Special education students will also report at 9:20 a.m.  
  • If there is a two hour delay: Elementary School classes will begin at 10:20 a.m. and middle and high school classes will begin at 10:00 a.m.  Special education students will also report at 10:20 a.m.  
  • The School District of Janesville does not close early to avoid incoming snow or ice storms.  This policy is to protect children who may get home before their parents and have no access or supervision.  On days when school is in session, but weather has progressively gotten worse, cancellations for after school or evening athletics and/or extracurricular activities will be announced by 2:00 p.m.
  • There will be no athletic contests and practices on days school is canceled due to weather related reasons.  
The district asks that families listen to WCLO AM 1230 radio station (or visit WCLO.comfirst for delay or closing reports or check the School District Facebook page.  In order to keep district lines open for general operations we suggest parents not call the district for closing information.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Facebook Founder Donates Billions to Education

By Kim Ehrhardt
Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan pledged to donate 99 percent of their company shares—currently valued at $45 billion—to support efforts to improve public health, education, and communities. 

A portion of that money will go toward backing the popular goal of promoting personalized learning opportunities for students. Zuckerberg and Chan announced their intentions in a Facebook entry titled, “A letter to our daughter,” newborn Max. 

The new parents said their broad ambition is to help their daughter’s generation accomplish two main goals:  “advancing human potential and promoting equity.” One component of achieving these goals, they said, rests partly with the question “can you learn and experience 100 times more than we do today?”

The couple described a vision for bringing personalized learning that would provide “more equal opportunity to anyone with an internet connection,” creating the potential to customize lessons to meet students’ academic strengths, weaknesses,  and interests. 

The Facebook executive and his wife said their donation to education, health, and other areas would be channeled through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which will be set up as a limited liability company.  Zuckerberg said he plans to continue to serve as Facebooks’ CEO for “many, many years to come,” and that the distribution of money from the couple’s Facebook shares would occur over the course of their lives. 

In the School District of Janesville, personalized learning pilots are in place at Lincoln, Van Buren, and Harrison Elementary Schools and at Franklin Middle School.  Plans are underway to expand the initiative next year to Edison and Marshall Middle Schools. Personalized learning is designed to increase individual student voice and choice resulting in an overall increase in engaged learning.  Coincidentally, last week Lincoln Elementary School (under the progressive leadership of Principal Shawn Galvin) made six different presentations at the annual S.L.A.T.E. (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) Conference.  The presentations were well received and the content detailed Lincoln School’s journey in implementing personalized learning experiences for their students. 

We know that the future is now, and as public educators, we are called to the challenge of responding to the rapidly changing world. Like Mark Zuckerberg, it is critical to embrace and support those strategies and tactics that bring learning into the twenty-first century. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Every Student Achieves Act

Yesterday, President Obama signed the new “Every Student Achieves Act”.  He stated, “This bill upholds the core value that animated the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson [April 11, 1965], the value that says education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right.”

What does this mean for the School District of Janesville?  In the short-term, the School District of Janesville will remain in a holding pattern with regards to curriculum, testing and other aspects of education until the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction can assess and determine new roles and responsibilities. In the long run, aspects of this new act will filter to local districts and we will weigh in on the logistics that will impact our own students and begin to create our own plan for implementation that corresponds with our Excellence in Education.

Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment is pleased that the new legislation has been passed. He states, “We know that under the new law, the U.S. Department of Education will exercise a much-diminished role and no longer be able to sanction underperforming schools.  Instead, states will be responsible for working with schools and local districts to develop achievement goals and accountability plans.  Hopefully, the new law will be supportive of the School District of Janesville’s efforts to move forward its quality agenda to ensure that teaching, learning, curriculum and instruction are rigorous, relevant and engaging for all students without out the complicated reporting requirements that have previously existed--and were expanding. Specific details of how things will really look (under the new law) are yet to be determined. I would expect that Department of Public Instruction to start to roll out some of the changes this spring. Until then, we are in a holding pattern.” 

Many are interested in how this new law impacts testing. Legislation will continue required testing in math and reading for all students in grades three to eight and one year in high school, however, the amount of time associated with this testing will decrease.

Positive impact on education in the School District of Janesville and across the country include, but are not limited to, some of the following:

  • The act encourages innovative ways to engage students in learning with an emphasis on STEM;
  • Provides accountability measures that connect to college and career readiness;
  • Gives flexibility to state education agencies to dedicate more resources for training and professional development;
  • Allows 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funds to be used for specific “afterschool-like” activities;
  • Strengthens school-community partnerships to include sharing of data and resources and leverage relationships for intentional alignment with the school day;
  • Non-academic indicators will now be considered in local accountability systems offering a more comprehensive picture of school success through state and district report cards shedding light on schools’ progress toward educational equity.

Parents and guardians can be assured that student success and achievement will remain a top priority as we navigate and look forward to this new horizon for education.  I've included a link to our State Superintendent's response to this new act here:

Monday, December 7, 2015

National Computer Science Week - Part III

by Guest Blogger, Amanda Werner 
Madison Elementary 5th Grade Challenge Program Teacher and Affiliate

Opening Doors of Opportunity Part III of a 3-part series in Partnership with SDJ

We are proud to announce that the School District of Janesville is now an official partner of We are the smallest district among approximately 75 districts across the nation affiliated with and the only district in the state of Wisconsin. As progressive as this alliance may be, administration recognizes how foreign this concept is to most K through 8 teachers. Our administration is committed to implementing the full curriculum in a way that is comfortable for all. 

Computer Science Education Week (Dec 7 - Dec 13)

To kick-off the partnership between SDJ and, every elementary and middle school student in the district are participating in the largest educational event in history: An Hour of Code. This week, during Computer Science Education Week (December 7 - December 13), our children will be among nearly 200 million worldwide spending one hour learning the basics. An Hour of Code is’s one-hour computer programming event simply designed to build excitement and show both teachers and students that anyone can code. Neither training nor teacher or student accounts are necessary to participate in this 1-hour event.

To further celebrate our commitment to exposing students to computer science, Craig and Parker Robotics and AP Computer Science students are visiting many classrooms to promote and help with An Hour of Code. Be on the lookout for Board members, Cabinet members and ESC Coordinators in your buildings taking part in Hour of Code week. For more information, view this 2 minute Hour of Code promotional video:

The second stage of the eventual roll-out process will be to provide training to all K-8 classroom teachers. As the district’s official Affiliate, I will offer professional development courses throughout the year. Classes are available for sign-up on My Learning Plan. The next workshop will be offered on Saturday, January 16. Please join me and be among the first in our district to see why this workshop has an average 4.92 / 5 rating among the 14,000 teachers that have already been trained by affiliates throughout the country. You do not need to be a digital native or computer science graduate to successfully implement the curriculum in your K-8 classroom.