Wisconsin test scores show post-pandemic academic slide

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Test scores for Wisconsin grade school students show declines since the coronavirus pandemic and persistent gaps, though there were signs of progress in the last school year.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday on the math and language arts tests for grades three through eight released by the state Department of Public Instruction. The results showed fewer than half of Wisconsin students were deemed proficient in 2022, a drop of about 10% of students who were deemed proficient in 2019.

The tests were canceled in 2020 and had low participation in 2021.

Still, state education officials said there were signs of progress.

Click here to download individual district data

“Recovery from something is a journey, and we have not yet reached a destination we are satisfied with,” said Abigail Swetz, communications director for the state Department of Public Instruction.

About 39% of Wisconsin students scored as proficient or higher in math on the spring 2022 Forward exams, compared to about 43% in 2019. And about 37% were proficient or better in language arts, down from 41%.

The numbers also show continued disparities by race, income and other factors. Swetz said they point to areas that need more support from state programs, including proposals for universal free meals, more mental health support, and more funding for special education and general aid.

DPI Superintendent Jill Underly, with the backing of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, is proposing a $2 billion plan to boost education funding over the next two years. But that plan is subject to Evers winning reelection and the Legislature, controlled by Republicans, agreeing to it.

Evers’ Republican challenger, Tim Michels, said the scores show that Evers has “driven Wisconsin schools into a ditch.” Before he was elected governor in 2018, Evers served ten years as state schools superintendent.

Michels has suggested he would not provide public schools with any new funding and would consider plans that could lower the amount some public schools get, while increasing funding for vouchers for private schools.

Results from Madison schools

The Madison Metropolitan School District reported that 40% of students in Grades 3-5 scored as proficient on Forward English and Language Arts. The district said participation in the exam rose to 87% in 2021-2022, up from 50% in 2020-2021.

A total of 41% of students who took the ACT/Aspire exam in Grades 9-11 met the “College Ready” benchmark in reading. Across all exams, the “College Ready” rate for reading dropped in 2021-2022, but the district says it believes the drop is due to participation rates rising than a true decrease in proficiency.

MMSD officials say they believe the data backs up their concerns about equity, with students from low-income households as well as Black and Hispanic students testing as proficient at lower rates than their peers.