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National Assessment of Educational Progress: Wisconsin's Status

Comments | Posted in mi perspectives | By MacIver Institute | Posted March 22, 2011 9:25 AM

Aggregated Scores from “The Nation’s Report Card” Rank Wisconsin 15th Nationally When it Comes to Educational Results

By Christian D' Andrea MacIver Institute Education Reform Analyst

Even with plateauing results, Wisconsin’s students are still achieving enough to rank in the top 30 percent of all states when it comes to educational achievement.

Despite a lack of growth in recent years, Wisconsin’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results are still strong enough to rank them 15thin America when it comes to reading and math concepts for fourth and eighth graders. That mark was good enough to be a leader amongst Midwestern states – though the results aren’t as optimistic as they seem.

Recent research from the Daily Beast - informed by recommendations from NAEP State Coordinator Bert Stoneberg -  ranked America’s 50 states based on student outcomes. Rather than stacking scores up against each other from state by state, the paper's panel of experts rated states by the amount of students in each grouping that scored “Advanced” or better on their NAEP examinations. This included results for fourth and eighth grade reading and math, but not science.

Wisconsin placed fifteenth overall out of 52 states and districts, but the results weren’t exactly encouraging. Only eight percent of students rated “Advanced” or above in either fourth or eighth grade math concepts. In reading, these figures dropped to seven percent for fourth graders and just two percent for eighth graders.

Regionally, this trailed behind Minnesota (24 percent total student testing Advanced or better in math, 12 percent in reading) but topped other Midwestern states like Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan.

2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress Scores

State Combined Reading Combined Math Overall National Rank
Minnesota 24 12 36 5
Wisconsin 16 9 25 15
Illinois 14 11 25 17
Missouri 13 11 24 18
Indiana 12 9 21 20
Iowa 12 9 21 27
Michigan 12 9 21 33
*Combined scores are the sum of the overall percentage of fourth and eighth grade students testing at levels of Advanced or better.

However, a closer look at these results shows just how close Wisconsin is to tumbling down the ranks. There is a sizable gap between states in the top ten and the rest of the country, and the middle of the pack is home to a wide array of mediocrity. Though these rankings are based on more than overall scores/percentages, these figures help illustrate how close the Badger State is to dropping from above average to below average in the United States.

Based on Wisconsin’s recent results on NAEP tests, it seems as though the state may be closer to the latter than the former. Math scores have only increased slightly while reading scores on NAEP tests have actually decreased over the past decade.

Scores Change % Change
NAEP Test 1998 2002 2003 2005 2007 2009
4th Grade Reading 222 n/a 221 221 223 220 -2 -0.90%
8th Grade Reading 266 n/a 266 266 264 266 0 0.00%
4th Grade Math n/a n/a 237 241 244 244 7 2.95%
8th Grade Math n/a n/a 284 285 286 288 4 1.41%

This complacency threatens to plague the state into the future as well, allowing Wisconsin to fall down the rankings. In fact, if state reading scores continue to decline at this rate, the Badger State could fall outside of the top twenty by the time 2011’s test results are recorded. After a full decade of educational action proved to have little to no impact on educational outcomes, it’s clear that something new is needed to keep Wisconsin’s national standing.

The state can still point to its 15th place ranking as a badge of honor, but any enthusiasm gained should be tempered by the state’s stagnant progress and the widening gap between America’s best education programs and Wisconsin’s middle-of-the-pack standing. Unless improvements are made, the state is bound to fade into mediocrity, takings its students with it.