Cost per student Mercer $25,097,
Wis. $13,505, Nation $11,762
ACT comp. score Mercer 17.0,
Wis. 19.6, Lakeland UHS 20.0,
Hurley 18.7; perfect score 36.0
Mercer DPI Report Card score
lowest of all 421 Wis. districts

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mercer’s New School Report Card Score

Two years ago, an astute Mercer citizen was verbally – and physically – attacked for calling the school district’s dismal ACT scores “pathetic.”  What would happen to him now if he appropriately classified the just-announced 2018-19 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Card score for Mercer as “TRAGIC”?  But that’s what it is.

For the third consecutive year the Mercer School District’s Report Card score hit rock bottom. And for the most recent 2018-19 school year the Mercer School District stands all alone at the VERY BOTTOM of the state’s 421 school districts with a score of 50.4 -- fails to meet expectations.  No other school district is listed in the last place category of fails to meet expectations. 

If this isn’t bad enough, the Mercer School District had scores of 55.9 and 61.9 – meets few expectations – for 2017-18 and 2016-17, also placing it at the bottom of all state school districts.

These three years of tragic scores happened during what should be the last of Administrator Erik Torkelson’s reign of mismanagement.  He was placed on medical leave after experiencing a stroke last June.

Of course, Mercer’s scores for the last three years also positioned it in very last place of all 21 northern Wisconsin school districts.

The DPI School Report Card scoring system is not without controversy.  At the last Mercer School Board meeting board member Jim Hannemann said that there had been considerable discussion at the last two CESA meetings concerning the DPI’s School Report cards.  He said that CESA members are not happy with the process. Hannemann is Mercer’s representation to CESA, an organization that provides services for school districts.

According to Hannemann, there is the beginning of a “groundswell” to come up with a more meaningful and more appropriate evaluation for smaller, rural schools that could be used in evaluating performance.  He said that present methods are designed for Milwaukee and Madison schools.   

However, the criteria for the School Report Cards is mandated by the state legislature and any changes would require state government action.

Hannemann and the other new school board members and the new interim administrator, Sheri Kopka, have an opportunity to only go upward and build a quality educational system.   Are they up to the task?

Its purpose is to report news and information – facts – about Mercer School Board and Administration issues and overall school academic performance.  It is intended to keep Mercer citizens aware of the management and inner workings of the school.  It is not a school newspaper; therefore, it will not report school sports events or individual student or teacher activities/accomplishments.  MSF pledges that all news reports will be thoroughly researched and supported by school, state and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction documentation.


  1. Huh.... they put up banners to celebrate the scores from a few years back but now the system is rigged and unfair... weird.

  2. Enough excuses from the school already. A different evaluation tool is now needed because of/for rural schools? Maple and Chequamegon seem to do well with the current criteria.

    So is this like a bowling handicap? Maybe they need to be spotted 10 points on the ACT? Shouldn't all the students be measured against the same set of criteria? Seems to me they will all be competing for the same opportunities.

    The failure is with Mercer School Administration and School Board. They are/were unwilling or incapable of running this school. Now the students, more than anyone else, are paying the price.

    But let's not forget the role of the resident taxpayers who vote. The majority of whom appear not to care how the kids are educated or where the money is spent. They allow this to continue year after year.

    So where does the fault really lie?

  3. Do they win a prize for last place? Say like 5 free teachers from the State. Mercer School definitely moved past the pathetic stage to a full blown tragedy.

    1. And remember folks, those high report card scores from years back were earned through cheating. The students will be paying a high price for years to come due to the arrogance of a few staff and administration members.

  4. One would think that any state wide test is developed to try and assure that ALL students are being prepared for real life situations. Whether it be college bound students or those who choose to enter the workforce upon graduation. Not just the big cities, but all areas of the state. Tests are normalized with consideration to many factors, one being rural areas.
    The fact remains that the children of the Mercer schools are not being prepared for what awaits them following high school. The blame game solves nothing. The teachers are tasked with getting these students prepared and the administration and school board to demand that from the teachers. Until we get to the point of having but one goal, the proper education
    of our kids, nothing will get done. Stop the arguing - it takes time. This not a power struggle - or least at least should not be.

  5. To the point of the test being unfair to rural areas (and some more/less so)... perhaps there is validity. Please read on. Looking at the report care summary (page 1), here's what we see when comparing data from 3 similar schools:

    STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT: State Forward Tests + ACT Aspire (9th/10th) + ACT (11th).
    ELA: Butternut - 30.2 > Mellen 28.7 > Mercer > 34.3 (Mercer =Highest)
    MATH: Butternut - 20.5 > Mellen 30.0 Mercer > 25.4 (Mercer = Middle)
    TOTAL: Butternut - 50.7 > Mellen 58.7 > Mercer 59.7 (Mercer = Highest)

    SCHOOL GROWTH: How much scores change versus how much the model says they should change, looking at each student. The weight this is given to the different schools varies. For Butternut, it's 25%. Mellen, it's 25%. Mercer, it's 53.5% (b/c Mercer is too small for some of the other categories to count). THIS is where the difference comes in. Mercer scores significantly less in this growth area, and it counts for more. The question for Mercer/DPI is WHY is this one so low and WHAT does this mean?
    ELA: Butternut - 35.9 > Mellen 29.2 > Mercer 20.7 (Mercer = Last)
    MATH: Butternut - 25.4 > Mellen 35.9 > Mercer 10.2 (Mercer = Last)

    CLOSING GAPS: Mercer is "too small" for data to count. For Butternut and Mellen, they score right at/near state average which likely helps their overall report card balance out their Achievement results, which as noted are worse than Mercer's.
    ELA/MATH: Butternut - 68.4 > Mellen - 77.4 > Mercer - N/A (State average = 68.4-68.8 so both are at/above which HELPS their report card - Mercer does not have a score which, appears to HURT Mercer)

    ON-TRACK/POST-SECONDARY READINESS: Variety of factors, which vary for schools as to what counts based on population. (Compare on your own to see).
    Butternut - 80.5 > Mellen - 87.2 > Mercer 84.3 (Mercer = Middle)

    So... interesting right? The report concludes then that BUTTERNUT is MEETING EXPECTATIONS (65.6%). MELLEN is EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS (73.0%). Yet, MERCER is FAILING TO MEET EXPECTATIONS (50.4%). This, despite Mercer's Achievement scores being higher than both of those comparative schools.

    COMPARE and you learn more. ASK questions and learn even more. BELIEVE what one report says... in a Silo... not so much. I can see why the Board and CESA (regional organization) are suggesting these are, on their face, not accurate representations.

    1. The report card system for Mercer is heavily weighted toward student growth due to the number of economically disadvantaged students in the district. This scoring factor significantly impacts the report card grade because of the years of inflated test scores as a result of cheating. Now that cheating has ceased for the past three years, students are unable to match the high scores necessary to show year over year growth on state tests. The DPI was easily able to pinpoint when cheating occurred and stopped due to the significant fluctuations in tests scores. These changes were extremely apparent in the special education department where cheating ran rampant. Karma eh?

    2. If schools with higher numbers of students can score well, why can't Mercer with low numbers? Seems to me small numbers should be easier to improve.

  6. I'm the one that wrote up the comparative results of the 3 schools... and I have another couple comments. While pointing out the Report card discrepancies, it is also well-noted that Mercer's academics and culture need to improve and change. A change in administration is overdue. That said, the negative reactions to the new school board are unfounded, as are the calls for shutting down the school (although if I was a board member, I would research/consider moving 9-12, while at the same time working on internal changes over the ensuing year or two to see what kind of improvements to culture, academics and services for special needs students come about -- all essentials). The new school board has been there for 6 months. Do you know how LONG it takes to make impactful change in a broken system? Give them time and support and feedback. They are definitely on the right track.

    1. Best, most effective way to change the culture is by completely starting over. Consult any management text to verify this.

      Best option for the students is to consolidate with a school that offers many more opportunities.

  7. It is wonderful to see well reasoned and rational comments on this ongoing topic. Data is a fickle thing and can often be manipulated to suit an individual point of view or argument. Education at the K-8 level largely serves to provide students with equal opportunity in basic skills that will sustain them as productive members of society. Grades 9-12 continue this mission but also should help individual students prepare to enter the workforce with a sustainable set of skills that is individually satisfying. This is also a time of intense personal development. Ultimately the determination of a schools "worth" is looking at what the graduates are doing after they leave the sanctuary of education. Do they stay in the area and become contributing citizens? Are they able to support themselves and their families? Do they have the job skills to survive in a tumultuous economy? Do they have the academic skills and discipline to seek more educational skills if they choose? With the small number of graduates each years it only takes one or two outstanding or under performing students to skew results. In the end its the fairly achieved outcomes that matter and in a small system like Mercer it should not be too hard to codify.

    1. A follow up survey was suggested by a board candidate about seven years ago. Torkelson and the Board said it would be too expensive and time consuming to do.

      How hard and expensive could it be to send out surveys to approximately a graduating class size of 10 students?

      Bottom line is I don't think they wanted to know the results.

  8. I am an educator in another district and pay taxes on property here. I follow the Mercer school situation that continues because no matter what people uncover, complain about or point fingers to.....children HAVE BEEN and CONTINUE to be the innocent victims in this.
    #1. The school report cards do not measure things in a fair way. However, every school is measured by the same criteria so Mercer is on an equal playing field.
    #2. Growth is a huge component because we are held accountable to growing ALL students, not just disadvantaged or those who are below average. When this was the case, those average and above typically suffered, so this is one area I do agree with.
    #3. Closing the gaps....for a student with an IEP/special needs of any type, staff need to work together (special ed and regular teaching staff) Instruction must be individualized because more than a years growth needs to be made or we will never close the gaps. It’s a lot of pressure on the staff and I don’t agree with this. I feel if you can prove your interventions, that should count, but I don’t make the rules. However, IEPs need to be taken seriously and followed.
    Do tests measure a child’s heart? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Do tests measure effort? ABSOLUTELY NOT! However, if a district has administration that provides a great culture for teachers to love going to work, they are happy which results in teachers working hard to provide a great learning environment and culture for students. When students feel safe, cared about and that their effort is what truly matters, guess what the end result is without trying? Higher test scores!
    I truly hope this all gets figured out. I have seen this school board work hard since they have taken over. I also give Krista and Karl (I think those were the names) a lot of credit as they started the very tough battle. I hope everyone just remembers the Center is the children. It’s not the money, the test scores, this side versus that side, it’s our future we need to always keep front and center.