Grand Island Public School officials warn against only looking at the numbers in the latest State of Schools report, as they place in the bottom half of districts statewide in reading, writing, math and science. Their biggest achievements, they say, can't be measured by a test.
Superintendent Robert Winter said he was not surprised by the rankings on Tuesday. He said they were expecting to see the district place where it did.
Struggling with reading and science across the board is something they will focus on moving forward, but it's what teachers see every day that has them holding their heads high.
"Who's the turkey," asked an elementary teacher to a group of students at Wasmer. Although she was asking in reference to a book, if you talk to some teachers at GIPS, the real turkey on Tuesday was the Nebraska Performance Accountability System's test.
"Their reading ability is really high," said teacher Tim Hake, about his third grade class. But, if you look at this year's scores, you wouldn't know it."
"There's clearly some areas that we need to do work on, and we recognize that, we don't shy away from that," that Dr. Robert Winter in a press conference.
The NESA ranked Grand Island Public Schools 211th in reading out of 249 districts. That number puts them in the bottom 15 percent, but teachers say it's not because the kids are illiterate.
"We have 100 subgroups of kids," said Winter, adding if three subgroups due poorly, the rankings go down, but that doesn't mean a majority of the kids are not on track.
In a district that's gone from predominately White/Caucasian in 10 years to about half Hispanic, district rankings are brought lower by the same thing that teachers are calling their best asset – diversity.
"We have over 9,000 students and they came to us with a myriad of backgrounds… we are thrilled to have every each and every one," said Winter.
It's training for the world they will live in, but that doesn't aid in learning a test. "We use the vocabulary they use in the tests to try to teach the kids the skills they need to know," said Hake.
Phrasing is the hold up in his third grade classroom, something not needed for the only universal language – math. And math is the district's highest ranked score – 155th out of 249 districts.
"Every culture brings a new vocabulary into their classroom, and we spend time trying to develop those," said Hake. "Our whole day is reading, even in math."
Finding a district's weak points is the purpose of the NESA test. Now that GIPS has their bearings, officials say it's about harnessing them.
"What we focus on at the end of the day is the area of growth," said Winter.