Milwaukee Public School Students Reverse Trend, Improve 2011 ACT Scores

MacIver News Service | August 17, 2011

When the number of Milwaukee Public School students taking the ACT test rose by almost 65 percent in 2010, the district’s average scores decreased dramatically. In 2011, these students are working to reverse that outcome.

Milwaukee’s ACT scores rose in four out of five categories, bucking a four-year trend in which city averages consistently dropped. MPS students increased their average scores in English, math, and reading to create a composite improvement of 1.3 percent as a group. This outpaced the Wisconsin state average of improvement, which was only 0.45 percent.

Wisconsin ACT Trends
Year Total Tested

Composite Score

MIL State MIL State
2007 2,086 46,430 17.7 22.3
2008 2,071 46,990 17.5 22.3
2009 2,334 46,658 17.2 22.3
2010 3,846 47,755 15.8 22.1
2011 3,812 47,693 16.0 22.2

Though Milwaukee still trails the statewide average by a large margin, their 2011 increase has slightly helped to cut into that gap. However, the district has much work to do to catch up with the rest of Wisconsin. The average MPS student scored more than six points lower than the average student statewide.

Gains in English and reading were encouraging in Brew City. Both subjects recorded increases of .4 of a point, helping to offset some of the damage of a precipitous drop in 2010. Meanwhile, the state’s average only increased by .1 in English and actually decreased by .1 in reading.

These results help alleviate some of the concerns behind the state’s promising ACT scores. Since not every student takes the ACT, it has been viewed as a selective test that fails to record the true status of a student’s educational capabilities. The addition of 1,500 more students in Milwaukee increased these concerns, as many of these pupils were poorly prepared for the test, dropping MPS’s average score. This slight rebound suggests that schools and students alike are improving their college readiness capabilities in the city.

The progress here may not be overwhelming, but it is stopping the tide of disappointment that has marked the past five years. Milwaukee’s increased test scores amongst a larger population of students is an indicator that more students in the district are becoming better prepared for college. However, until more pupils in the city take the test, it’s hard to fully understand just how much of an impact these small improvements can really have.