Deeper Dive: Abyssal Skill Rates of Wisconsin K12 Schools


November 1, 2021

By Abbi Debelack

The latest data on tests and proficiency rates for Wisconsin children was recently released by the Department of Education and it’s not pretty. Yet despite the alarming test results, there appears to be little to no outrage on the part of the media and the educational institution.

Each year, Wisconsin students of different levels take a series of standardized tests to assess their skills in a range of different subjects. Test scores are a useful tool for tracking a student’s academic progress and assessing the overall effectiveness of Wisconsin’s K12 education system. The advanced exam is given to students in grades 3 through 8 and 10. The ACT Aspire test is administered in grades 9 and 10. The ACT writing test is given in grade 11 and dynamic learning cards are given to students with cognitive impairments. This year, the tests were administered to the students in the spring. The tests were not administered in 2020 due to COVID-19.

This year English Language Arts (ELA) fluency is 27.5%, down 5.4 points or 16.41% reduction from 2019. Mathematics fluency is 27%, down 7 points compared to 2019 or a reduction of 20.59%. These numbers look at the percentage proficiency rates of TOTAL Wisconsin students, not just those tested, as Superintendent Underly reported in her press release.

We must stress that this is not a particularly difficult or rigorous scoring metric. A student who is scored as proficient on the advanced exam means the child is performing at the school level. Let it sink in. Surprisingly, less than a third of students in Wisconsin are proficient in math or English.

What is even more alarming than the fact that less than a third of our students are not proficient in math or English is the percentage of our students who score BELOW the proficiency line, at levels ” basic ”or“ less than basic ”.

According to the DPI website, a student who achieves a base score on the advanced exam “demonstrates academic knowledge and skills tested on the statewide standardized test.” A student who scores lower than the base on the advanced exam “shows little academic knowledge and skills tested in the statewide standardized test.”

In 2021, 53% of students who took the advanced exam achieved a basic or lower designation in ELA and / or math. Fifty-three percent!

In Wisconsin, we have over 50% of our students between Grades 3 and 10 who FAIL this important benchmark.

Think about it a bit. Where is the outrage?

In addition to students who are proficient – operating at the academic level – a small percentage of Wisconsin students tested advanced to the advanced exam. In 2021, 6.2% of all students had mastered ELA, up from 7.9% in 2019. Maths saw a larger decline in the advanced category, with 6.6% of students taking advanced tests in 2021, compared to 9.4% in 2019.

We also saw an increase in the achievement gap between black and white students from 2019 to 2021. In 2019, 10.5% of black students in the state were proficient in math compared to 40.1% of their white classmates, ie a difference of 29.6 points. In 2021, 4.1% of black students were found to be proficient in math compared to 33.9% of their white classmates, a difference of 29.8 points.

ELA saw similar trends with 11.6% of proficient black students versus 38.5% of white students in 2019, a difference of 26.9 points. In 2021, 6.6% of black students had mastered ELA compared to 33.4% of their white classmates, a difference of 26.8 points.

Each ethnic group listed on the DPI dashboard experienced a decrease in proficiency rates from 2019 to 2021. This trend is nothing new. The MacIver Institute was report this for years.

Almost as concerning as the low number of children who are performing at a failure or proficiency level is the high number of students who have not taken the test this year. According to DPI, about 487,000 students, or only about 84% of Wisconsin’s 580,000 students, took math and ELA exams. In recent years, according to DPI, turnout has typically been over 95%.

Since such a high percentage of students did not take the exam last year, it is quite possible that the proficiency levels are even lower than those reported here.

For context, we have about 830,000 K12 students enrolled in public schools this year and 120,000 in private schools.

Some of the larger districts in the state had alarming rates of students failing to pass the advanced exam. In Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), 56% of students did not take the ELA test in 2021, compared with 1.5% who did not take the same test in 2019. Madison schools have seen a trend similar with 50% of students not taking the ELA. test in 2021, against 4.7% in 2019. Other large neighborhoods had slightly better participation with only 8.2% of students in La Crosse, 8.6% of students in Wausau, 18.1% of students in Racine and 26.2% of students in Green Bay not having completed the ELA test in 2021.

Since such a high percentage of students did not take the exam last year, it is quite possible that the proficiency levels are even lower than those reported here.

When reporting skill scores in his press release, Dr Underly omitted the students who did not take the test because they “count towards the overall proficiency scores”, explaining that “the students did not participate in the assessments in some cases due to problems and difficulties. local health issues, or parents’ choice to keep students at home. ”

In the past, the MacIver Institute did not exclude students who had not been tested, as the percentage tended to be very low in previous years. Considering the large increase in the number of students not taking the test this year, we will note that among the students tested – around 86% of the total student population – 32% were proficient in ELA and 31% were proficient in math. , as reported by Dr Underly. .

This lack of testing and the increase in virtual learning in recent years have hit some of the state’s largest schools hardest. Sadly, Milwaukee public schools have seen some of the biggest drops in proficiency scores across the state. In 2018-2019, 16.2% of MPS students mastered ELA and 14.2% mastered mathematics. These numbers have fallen further in 2020-2021. Only 6.4% of students mastered ELA, a drop of 60.5% compared to 2018-2019. Math was even worse with just 3.7% of proficient students, a decrease of 73.24% from 2018-19. 56% of Milwaukee students did not take the Forward exam in the 2020-2021 school year.

It should be noted that Milwaukee public schools have received approximately $ 770 million in federal COVID assistance over the past two years to avoid such a drastic drop in test scores and skills.

Madison Metropolitan School District has followed a similar trend. In 2020-2021, 14.8% of students were proficient in ELA – a decrease of 45.8% from 2018-2019, and 13.2% of students were proficient in mathematics – a decrease of 50.9% from to 2018-2019.

Traditional public schools alone weren’t the only ones to be shaken by low proficiency scores. As a percentage of the total number of students enrolled in the program of choice, 62% of students assessed at basic level or below basic level for mathematics, 12% were proficient in mathematics and only 2% had advanced level . ELA proficiency was slightly higher with 57% basic or lower tests, 16% proficiency, and again only 2% advanced. These numbers are down from the 2018-2019 school year, where 19% of choice students mastered ELA and 16% mastered math.

As in public schools, there was a high percentage of choice students who did not take the proficiency exam in 2021. 6,765 choice students, or 25% of students, did not take the proficiency exam. ELA or the math test. When these students are excluded from the equation, proficiency scores increase slightly to 14% for math and 18% for ELA. In addition, 3% of the students were advanced in ELA and 2% in mathematics.

In 2021, the ACT composite score for students taking the exam was 19.1 out of a potential 36 points, up from 19.6 in 2019.

In addition to the advanced exam, grade 11 students must take the ACT exam. The composite score of students taking the exam in 2021 was 19.1 out of a potential 36 points, compared to 19.6 in 2019. Participation fell slightly with 59,464 students taking the exam in 2019 and 56,077 passing the exam. review in 2021.

Breaking down the data by test subject, in 2019 the average test score for ELA was 18.0, while in 2021 it dropped slightly to 17.9. For math, the scores were similar with 19.4 as the average in 2019 and 19.1 as the average in 2021.

Responding to the dismal scores, Assembly Education Committee Chairman Representative Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) said: “Scores in Wisconsin, especially at ELA, have been declining for years. . Our educational institution, especially DPI, was unwilling to address the root cause of this problem, which was poor reading methodology. Rather than making changes according to what science tells us, they continued to work harder on bad methodology and put money into the problem. And keep saying they need more.

The Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Darling (R-River Hills) also called attention to this problem, saying, “If children cannot read, their prospects for life are bleak.

The problem of low literacy rates is not new to Wisconsin. Yet even after injecting billions of dollars into the K12 education system, the scores remain abysmal. This is a huge problem that should not and cannot be ignored or dismissed. Parents and taxpayers must stand up, speak out and demand better from our children, our teachers, our administrators and our elected officials. Our children are counting on us to fix the K12 education.

Keep an eye out for the MacIver Institute as we wait for the next release of the Department of Education’s report card data.

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