Lawmakers question state plan seeking to cut achievement gap in half

Lawmakers question state plan seeking to cut achievement gap in half

State lawmakers are questioning whether an ambitious plan from the Department of Public Instruction to close the achievement gap is even realistic.

Wisconsin is hoping to cut its worst-in-the-nation student achievement gap in half within six years — a goal that would require a dramatic upsurge in test scores by non-white students.

The Department of Public Instruction set that as a primary goal in a draft accountability plan it released Friday. The plan also aims to cut the graduation gap in half.

To achieve the goal, minority students would need to increase their English and math scores between 1.4 to 4.2 percent per year for the next six years. Some lawmakers are questioning if the goal is too ambitious.

“We know how daunting this task is and we know where we rank and how bad it really is. I mean, do you really foresee us being able to cut that in half in six years?” said Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake.

“Not only would we close the achievement gaps but it is important to remember that our student population is increasingly diverse over time. So when we don’t close achievement gaps in the long run, if we don’t do this our overall achievement is going to drop. So in order to continue to improve as a state, we have to close these gaps,” responded Jeff Pertl, DPI senior policy advisor.

DPI’s plan also sets future state education policy; a provision will require the state to identify low-performing schools and develop a plan to help those schools improve.

“I think that is the right goal. The six-year timeline gives us the opportunity to assess where we are and think about the changes and explore the ways we can get there, said Langston Evans, MMSD Avid district coordinator.

Madison’s AVID/TOPS program is seeing results with their efforts to address the achievement gap in a specific class that works with students, the district and community partners to help get students to graduation.

The plan also calls for struggling schools to work more closely with families and local communities to turn them around. That’s a more collaborative and locally focused approach than was permitted under the previous law, which focused on punishing schools deemed to be failing.

The plan will now go to public review. In August, it will go to the governor’s office, which has 30 days to review it. A final plan will be submitted in September.