The second year of data for the state’s first voucher program outside of Milwaukee are in, and students in Racine’s Private Parental School Choice Program (PPSCP) scored higher on state tests when it comes to reading. However, the results weren’t as successful when it came to math.
The population of eligible students in the PPSCP tripled thanks to the program’s expansion, leading to some serious fluctuation between the student data from 2012 and 2013. However, the results collected by the Department of Public Instruction show both positive and negative growth for students in the district’s voucher program. Interestingly, the overall trends in reading and math actually run opposite to the results shown in Racine’s traditional public schools.
While reading proficiency levels went down in fourth and eighth grade in the district’s voucher schools, gains in other classrooms were significant enough to lead to a 35 percent increase in overall reading scores. Students that rated out as “Proficient” or better on Wisconsin’s standardized tests in 2013 grew by 35 percent over what they did in 2012. Unfortunately, that growth did not carry over to mathematics for these students.
Pupils in the PPSCP saw a significant decrease in math scores on the WKCE last fall. Part of the issue behind these volatile swings can be traced to the small sampling size of students in the first year of the program and a larger student base for the second year. In 2011-2012, the PPSCP enrolled only 61 students in the testable grades of 3-8 and grade 10. In 2012-2013, this increased to 174 students, nearly tripling the overall observational size. This is because the program’s enrollment grew from a cap of 250 students to a cap of 500 students last year. Every student, with the exception of those in kindergarten, first grade, or ninth grade, was required to have attended a public school in the year prior.
Here’s how these test scores shook out in Racine’s traditional public schools.
These trends were the opposite of how students performed in all Racine public schools. While math proficiency grew, the district’s overall reading scores decreased between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. However, a surge in overall math proficiency gave the district’s schools a significant edge over the fledgling voucher program.
The proficiency advantages for public schools in Racine are something that have been apparent since the first volume of WKCE scores was released in 2012. Those original scores were calculated with the state’s older, less comprehensive standards (and therefore more likely to give students inflated grades when it came to achievement and test scores). In the data above, the 2011-2012 scores have been recalculated under Wisconsin’s new standards. In either metric, the city’s traditional schools held a significant advantage over their voucher students when it came to student achievement. However, these results weren’t an indication of a failure to educate students, but a startling look at how far behind their peers the students who had received these vouchers were.
In that first year of data, students in voucher schools had been taking classes in their new environments for a little over a month. By law, they could not have been educated in a private school in the prior year. As a result, last year’s data show that these students were the ones who needed a change in environment the most – they were the pupils that had fallen behind their peers and were struggling to learn in their traditional public schools.
This year’s data suggest that there have been some gains in reading and some backsliding in math. However, an increase in students makes it difficult to understand the true impact of the second year of educational vouchers in Racine. These results should begin to stabilize now that the program has graduated beyond its two years of enrollment caps. For now, these schools should look deeper into their literacy and math programs to figure out what’s working with their reading programs, and what isn’t when it comes to arithmetic and algebra.