State Test Results Underscore Fact Racine Choice Program Serves Kids in Need

Statewide WKCE Results Show Narrowing Achievement Gap, Math Gains, Reading Losses

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Data released by the Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday painted a mixed review of educational progress in Wisconsin. While the state continued a trend of rising math scores on the standardized Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), declining reading scores posed a problem in the face of stagnant literacy growth in the state.

When it came to fourth grade reading, 81.5 percent of the state’s students rated as “proficient” or better. This was down from 83 percent the previous year. Since 2006, the state’s reading scores have decreased by .4 percent.

The news was better when it came to mathematics. 79.3 percent of the state’s eighth graders were proficient in basic math concepts. This was up from 78.3 in 2010-2011 and 74.9 percent back in 2006.

While reading growth has been more or less stagnant over the past five years, there has been progress made when it comes to closing the achievement gap. Variance in student scores has been a concern in the Badger State for decades, with different groups recording significantly different grades across the scoring spectrum. 2011-2012 was another year in which the state’s public schools worked to close this gap, though significant problems still remained.

Grapic: Courtesy of DPI

From 2005-2011, this gap has decreased across all four races that are counted by DPI in both reading and mathematics. While there is still significant work left to do in order to raise the grades of all students, this is a positive step forward for the state.

The 2011-2012 release of WKCE data also marked the second year that choice schools were evaluated through standardized testing. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and Racine’s Parental Private School Choice Program (PPSCP) both trailed their public school counterparts in reading and math as a whole, though the data presented by the WKCE only counts a student’s knowledge through October.

For a choice program like Racine’s, these figures may tell more about a student’s background coming into the first year of a voucher school system rather than their progress to date. Racine’s PPSCP population posted proficiency numbers that lagged behind their regular public school counterparts, but since the WKCE is given so early in the year, it’s difficult to gauge just what impact – if any – their new schools have made on these scores.

Rather, low proficiency scores in the program’s first year just give a baseline of where the students entering the PPSCP are coming from. With noticeably lower scores, these figures should put to rest any idea that voucher schools in Racine are only taking away the cream of the crop from Racine Unified’s traditional schools.

Elsewhere, regular Milwaukee Public Schools slightly outperformed the city’s voucher schools in reading scores despite posting declining results from last year’s WKCE, falling from 59 percent of students reading proficiently to 58.2 percent. Conversely, MPCP schools posted gains in reading – a 1.1 percent to 56.3 – in their second year of program-wide state-mandated standardized testing. The gap between the two types of schools in the city was 1.9 percent.

The state’s inability to post significant gains in reading across the board will put additional pressure on the upcoming Read to Lead program. That legislation, which was passed this March, will put an emphasis on literacy in early education. As a result, schools will screen students in kindergarten to better understand a child’s reading skills and have stronger interventions for struggling students before grade three. This program is strongly tied to similar legislation that has created stronger reading scores in Florida.

Data for Wisconsin’s latest round of WKCE testing can be found on DPI’s website here: