Wisconsin Students Improve on WKCE Testing in Final Year

Milwaukee Choice Students Trail MPS, but Continued Tremendous Growth in Reading, Math

April 8, 2014

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] Students attending Wisconsin schools have made slight gains in proficiency on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WCKE) in the last five years according to the most recent results released by the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on Tuesday.

The amount of students proficient in math statewide increased from 46.8 percent in the 2009-10 academic year to 48.6 percent in 2013-14, an improvement of 3.8 percent. Reading proficiency increased from 35.5 percent in 2009-10 to 36.6 percent in 2013-14, an increase of 3.1 percent.

The achievement gap persisted even though all racial and ethnic groups improved over the last five years of testing. More than 56 percent of white students were proficient in math this year, while just over 18 percent of black students were. There was a slightly smaller achievement gap in reading, where nearly 43 percent of white students were proficient and just over 14 percent of black students were.

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Among grade levels, elementary and high school students improved in reading and math over the previous academic year, but middle school students saw a drop in each.

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The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) participated in WKCE testing for the fourth year and showed faster proficiency growth over its Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) peers.

The city’s voucher schools improved their achievement scores in both reading and mathematics for the third straight year, pulling closer to their public school counterparts on the standardized test. The latest state data shows that while MPS students backslid in math and grew slightly in reading, the city’s voucher programs continued a path of improvement that has been growing since the first year of WKCE data collection in the city’s voucher schools.

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The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has seen significant growth in each year that WKCE data has been collected for its voucher students. Milwaukee choice students saw a 72 percent rise in math scores and a 42 percent increase in reading proficiency since 2010-11. Though these schools still trail their counterparts in overall achievement, the gap between the two is narrowing.

Over this same timeframe, MPS student proficiency in math dropped from 19.3 percent in 2010-11 (the first year MPCP students took the tests) to 19.0 percent in 2013-14. That is a decrease of 1.6 percent.

When these results are adjusted for students that opted out of the WKCE, voucher performance improves.

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That’s because parents that choose not to have their children participate in the state testing earn the program a zero on each missed test. Approximately 2.7 percent (368 of 13,601) of the eligible students were pulled from the test in Wisconsin’s choice schools in 2013-14. Only .13 percent (578 of 432,594) of the state’s traditional public school students decided to opt-out.

According to the opt-out figures, MPCP students improved their mathematics proficiency by 32.5 percent from 2011-12 to 2013-14. That group’s reading scores grew by 23.2 percent in the same time frame.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) was encouraged by the growth by Milwaukee’s choice schools.

“I’m encouraged by the improvement for choice students and concerned that MPS isn’t showing more improvement. This session, in addition to increasing funding for MPS, we made it easier for them to hire better teachers,” Darling said, “Real education reform means stopping adults from putting their priorities ahead of the children.”

The trends in Milwaukee did not hold up for Racine’s still-growing voucher program. The Racine Parental Choice Program (RPCP) saw declines in both reading and math aggregate scores in 2013-14. However, DPI warns that since the sample size of students tested in each grade are significantly lower than the participants in the MPCP, comparisons from year to year and across programs are “unreliable.” The RPCP enrolled just 1,245 students in its first year without a participation cap. It had been limited to 500 and 1,000 students in the prior two years.

That small sample size also made comparisons from the first year of Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program difficult to conduct. The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program was limited to 500 students in its pilot year last fall. While students in that program outperformed their school choice peers in Milwaukee and Racine, there were not enough students enrolled to create a viable comparison between the programs or against traditional public school performance.

While the news showed positive gains for Milwaukee’s voucher students, there is still plenty of work to be done in a district that lagged far behind the statewide average in both reading and math. These results will get an overhaul in 2014-15 when the state drops the WKCE in favor of Smarter Balanced testing – a program that will place more emphasis on student growth and give educators, parents, and citizens a broader look at how students are performing in Wisconsin’s K-12 classrooms.

See the press releases from DPI below.

DPI News Release: Last year for WKCE math and reading; results improve over five years

DPI News Release: Fourth year of choice school data