Reading and math scores for most Wisconsin public school students increased slightly on tests administered last fall, but wide achievement gaps between white students and minorities persist, results released this week show.
Test results for students participating in the taxpayer-subsidized private school voucher program were to be released later Tuesday.
The scores are looked at closely by parents, educators and policy makers to assess both how well students are learning and how schools are doing at educating them. Last year, the report showed voucher school students lagging their public school counterparts, a finding that only further fueled the rancorous debate in the Legislature over expanding the program.
Ultimately, the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker reached an agreement to allow vouchers in 25 additional schools or school systems, with a 500-student cap beyond Milwaukee and Racine. That cap grows to 1,000 students next year, and advocates plan to push for even greater expansion.
The public school results showed that just under half of the state’s students — nearly 49 percent — scored either proficient or advanced, the two highest ratings, in math. In reading, just over a third — nearly 37 percent — were proficient or advanced.
The scores were up slightly from last year, when 48.1 percent of students were proficient or advanced in math, and 36.2 percent were in reading.
Five years ago, about 47 percent were proficient or advanced in math and nearly 36 percent were in reading.
As has been the case for years, minority students continue to lag. American Indian, black and Hispanic students all had fewer proficient or advanced math scores. In reading, all minority groups, including Asian students, scored lower than their white counterparts.
The disparity was deepest among black students, where only 18 percent were in the highest two ranks in math and just 14 percent were in reading. White students were 56 percent proficient or advanced in math and almost 43 percent were in reading.
“Our achievement gaps are no secret and are too large,” state Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.
A task force Evers created to study the issue plans to meet for the first time today.
The tests show that over 42 percent of Wisconsin students are in poverty. That is a 5 percentage point increase over the past five years. While just over 30 percent of white students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, nearly 82 percent of black students qualify, along with nearly 78 percent of Hispanic students and more than 68 percent of American Indians.
The results reported Tuesday are the last under the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations, which have been used to assess student achievement since 1992. Those tests are being replaced next school year with new annual online exams, and another component that can measure progress throughout the year instead of just one point in time.
Every high school junior in Wisconsin will also take the ACT college entrance exam, with the state picking up the $50 fee. All 11th graders will also take another test designed to assess job skills called WorkKeys. Students in elementary grades would take a new test being designed by a 28-state consortium that includes Wisconsin.
The tests are aligned with the Common Core education standards.
Evers, who advocated for the new tests, said they will help the Department of Public Instruction close achievement gaps and prepare students to graduate ready for college or a career.
Nearly all of the state’s 430,600 students in grades three through eight and 10 took the reading and math tests last fall.