Wisconsin Posts Slight Gains on 2011 Nation’s Report Card Results, Fourth Grade Reading Still Lags Behind Other Categories

America’s students posted slight increases when it comes to reading and math in the 2011 iteration of the Nation’s Report Card. Wisconsin made small strides to remain above the national average when it comes to education in the United States.

Twenty-two states posted significant increases in mathematics scores in either grade four or eight in this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. Twelve performed similarly well in either grade when it came to reading. Wisconsin’s results, while positive, where not a strong enough improvement to qualify as a significant improvement.

Wisconsin’s fourth-grade reading score improved by one point to 221. This was a single point higher than the national average. While this was an increase, it is still lower than the state’s performance throughout the 1990s, which topped out at 224. Fourth-grade reading is the only category in which Wisconsin doesn’t outscore the national average by a statistically significant margin.

Eighth grade reading posted a similar increase, moving from 266 to 267. This was three points (1.1 percent) greater than the American average.

Regionally, these reading grades were comparable to Wisconsin’s neighboring states. Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa all scored between 220-222 when it came to fourth-grade marks and between 265-270 amongst their eighth graders.

After starting above the national average, Wisconsin’s fourth-grade mathematics performance has improved in concert with the national average since 2007. After posting 244s in 2007 and 2009, this score rose to 245 in the 2011 iteration of the NAEP results. Regionally, this trailed only Minnesota in overall score, though all comparable Midwest states scored at least 240 on this metric.

The same can be said about the state’s eighth grade performance, which held true at six points above the national average by rising one point from 2009. Both scores placed second in the region, falling behind only Minnesota.

This was a modest turnaround from the state’s previous performances, where Wisconsin has turned in stagnant growth despite scoring above the national average. However, if the state cannot improve its reading prowess – a category in which the state has actually decreased amongst fourth graders – then the Badger State will stand at risk of falling behind the rest of the country.

Wisconsin’s fourth-grade reading scores in 2009 were the lowest they had ever been (since the records were kept in 1992), clocking in at 220 after posting a 223 in 2007. In 2011, 68 percent of students scored “basic” or better on the test, a four-point decrease from the state’s highest showing in 1998. In eighth grade, 79 percent of students showed basic reading skills. This is the same result as in 1998, the first recorded year of 8th grade testing. It is apparent that Wisconsin has struggled to show consistent gains when it comes to reading.

This static performance applies across the differing gauges of reading ability. Reading proficiency has remained right around one-third of all students in Wisconsin since the early 1990s. Fewer than half of the students that test out at “basic” move on to the next level of results. In short, the Badger State’s reading performance has remained roughly the same for nearly two decades now.

Math scores have followed a more positive trajectory in recent years. Performance in both fourth and eighth grade has risen in NAEP mathematics since the early 1990s.  2011’s results continue this trend, despite the modest growth. However, the state’s growth remains behind the United States average when it comes to improvement.

Since 1992, the state’s fourth-grade math scores have increased from 229 to 245, a rise of approximately seven percent. The American average has gone from 219 to 240 in that same span, a total increase of about 9.6 percent.

In eighth grade, Wisconsin improved from a score of 274 to 289, about 5.5 percent better than their 1990 figure. The national average rose from 263 to 282. That represents an increase of nearly eight percent in all.

This suggests that while Wisconsin continues to perform well on these metrics, the rest of the country is catching up over the long run. While the Badger State still has breathing room before falling to the national average, modest improvements may leave the state spinning its wheels while reformers like Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia gun for Wisconsin’s spot in the rankings.