Analyzing Wisconsin’s Achievement Gap Data

Wisconsin is a consistent leader when it comes to the achievement gap between black and white students, according to the “Nation’s Report Card.”

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) highlights the state’s deficiency when it comes to educating African American students versus Caucasian students in the state. When it comes to eighth grade reading and math, Wisconsin has ranked amongst the top five states when it comes to the achievement gap since 2000 – and in seven out of eight results, ranks either first or second in the country.

The NAEP data – often referred to as “the nation’s report card” due to its use in comparing public education between states – showcased above average scores for white students, coupled with below average scores for black students using the same mechanisms. In each year during the 2000s, Wisconsin’s achievement gap has been at least 23% higher than the national average – culminating with increases of 45% in math and 46% in reading during the 2007 tests.

These staggering gaps have emerged as one of the most pressing problems with public education in Wisconsin today.

While the achievement gap, according to NAEP data, has been reduced recently, Wisconsin is still lagging behind the rest of the country. Despite focused efforts to close this gap, the state lags behind the national average of improvement on 8th grade math scores, meaning that while Wisconsin has closed its achievement gap slightly, its African American students have lagged behind the improvement made by the rest of the country over this time span. Conversely, African American achievement is slightly ahead of the national rate of improvement in 8th grade reading scores.

An uptick in scores between 2007 and 2009 are a light of hope, but not uncommon in the state’s string of failure when it comes to NAEP scores. Dramatic jumps in test scores have not been sustainable in the past, and backsliding after significant gains is a legitimate possibility to happen again. A nine point jump in math scores for black students in 1992 was followed by a five point drop – and these results didn’t reflect significant improvement from that year until the most recent scores from 2009. A seven point jump in reading scores amongst the same students comes with its own caveats as well – this increase came after a five point drop, and shows just a two point improvement from 2005 and a four point improvement since the test’s adoption in 1998.

Wisconsin’s achievement gap is not a new issue, and the reflection of nearly 20 years of federal testing data showcases this. Though recent results may give a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel, past performances indicate that it’s too soon to be optimistic.

Even with pinpointed efforts, the state still lags behind the national average when it comes to educating its African American population. As the diverse growth of the student population expands, this is a problem that cannot continue.

By Christian D’ Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst