BRITT | The West Hancock School District has cause to celebrate.

That’s because the Iowa School Report Card, which was released in mid-December, showed the middle school among the highest ranked in North Iowa.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Ruth Verbrugge, West Hancock Middle School principal, during the School Board meeting Dec. 18. “I’m really proud of the staff because they worked really hard to get us there.”

According to the 2016-2017 data, West Hancock Middle School received a “high-performing” rank, which is the second highest ranking on the report card and is made up of only five percent of middle schools across the state. St. Ansgar Middle School also received the ranking.

The report card is the Iowa Department of Education’s web-based rating system that shows how each public school performs in certain areas. It was introduced in 2015 after state and national K-12 educational reforms.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which produced a complicated state report card on district and school progress each year.

Ratings — exceptional, high-performing, commendable, acceptable, needs improvement and priority — are based on two-year performance in eight areas like reading and math assessments, college and career readiness, closing achievement gaps, graduation rates, student attendance and staff retention, according to the Department of Education.

West Hancock Middle School is among five percent of Iowa middle schools labeled as “high-performing,” with a 68 score. The report card indicates it was considered “acceptable” the previous year, with a score of 63.2.

Verbrugge said the school’s biggest improvement was made in the area of closing the achievement gap.

“Achievement gap in education refers to the disparity in academic performance between groups of students,” the department says on its website. “Iowa faces significant gaps in achievement for students who are part of these groups.”

The groups are English Language Learners, minorities, those enrolled in special education services and students on free- or reduced-price lunch.

The middle school improved its score in closing the gap from 42.3 to 48.7, according to the report card, and Verbrugge said that’s attributed to “interventions and support systems in place” that are “yielding positive results.”

“I can't say enough about how hard the teachers work to meet the needs of students,” she said.

Although the middle school saw growth within the past year, the elementary school and high school slipped in their scores, according to their 2016-2017 data, but they retained the same rankings.

West Hancock Elementary School fell from 72.3 to 69.8 receiving a “commendable” ranking, and West Hancock High School dropped from 64.8 to 60 receiving an “acceptable” ranking.

Elementary School Principal Michelle DeHart said the area of the report card that struck her as interesting was student attendance, despite it only falling 0.02 percent from the previous year’s report.

According to the report card, the school’s average daily attendance is 95.9 percent for 2016-2017.

“That has been something that is becoming more and more challenging at the elementary level,” she said, noting families aren’t emphasizing the importance of school attendance like they had in the past.

DeHart said she’s investigating how the district can improve that.

High School Principal Dan Peterson, although initially frustrated with the school’s report card score, said it “helps facilitate and continue conversations that focus on providing the best education for students possible.”

The high school slipped two percent or less in proficiency, graduation rate, student attendance and college and career readiness, but its biggest drop was in closing the achievement gap among its students.

This year’s report showed a drop from 58.2 to 36.9, which Peterson said could be the result of a change in the demographics of the student body.

The high school has the highest staff retention rate in the school district at 91.8 percent. The middle school has a 84.1 percent staff retention rate and the elementary has 84.6 percent.

“West Hancock is committed to top-notch education, and while we are confident we have always done so, we will always be looking to find ways to help give our students a competitive advantage to succeed in any of their post-secondary endeavors,” Peterson said.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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