Just Over 42 Percent Of Wisconsin Students Hit State Targets For English, Math

State Releases First Results Of Wisconsin Forward Exam

Mike Groll/AP Photo

Results from Wisconsin’s newest standardized math and English tests released Tuesday show just over 42 percent of the state’s public school third- through eighth-graders scored proficient or above on each exam. Proficiency rates for students enrolled in three state-run private school choice programs were 19.1 percent for English and 14 percent for math.

The Wisconsin Forward Exam was the second new set of standardized tests students took in the last two years. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction officials said a team of 100 Wisconsin educators raised cutoff scores for proficiency this year to better align with more rigorous national expectations, leading to a decline in the portion of students scoring at proficient or higher compared to last year.

Viji Somasundaram, director of DPI’s Office of Student Assessment, said the decline is a reflection of the more rigorous standards, not an indication of a drop in student performance.

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Meeting a proficient or advanced benchmark means the student is at or above where the state expects the student to be at a given grade, according to the DPI.

To get a sense of whether students are improving year-to-year, the state will have to compare scores from the same exam. The state’s contract with the Forward Exam developers runs six years with two possible two-year extensions.

While it isn’t possible to make year-to-year comparisons, it is clear long-standing gaps between students of different racial and economic backgrounds were virtually unchanged.

About 26.3 percent of students from low-income households scored at or above proficient on the English tests, while 25 percent did so on the math tests. About 54 percent of their more affluent classmates reached the same target on each exam. The difference in the portion of students in each group reaching state targets was unchanged in English compared to last year’s Badger Exam, while it dropped 3 percentage points in math.

The gaps between black and white students’ scores, and Hispanic and white students’ scores were essentially the same as last year.

In English, 49.8 percent of white students scored at proficient or higher, while 25.5 of Hispanic students and 13.7 percent of black students did the same. In math, the white proficiency rate was 50.5 percent, while the Hispanic rate was 22.5 percent and the black rate was 10.7 percent.

“I remain troubled by the achievement gaps that persist in Wisconsin,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers in a written statement released Tuesday. “As a state and within our local communities, we must work together to raise awareness of this problem and implement policy-driven solutions. It is not an issue of one student or one district, it is an issue that impacts us all.”

Across Wisconsin, scores came from 382,836 public and private choice school students who took the Forward Exam and 64,668 students statewide in 11th grade who took the ACT Plus Writing exam.

Wisconsin uses the ACT college entrance exam to gauge English and math proficiency among 11th-graders.

This year, 40.8 percent of public school juniors scored a proficient or better in English language arts and about 34.8 percent did so in math. Those percentages are down from 45.7 percent proficiency in English and 36 percent in math in 2015. Students enrolled in private schools through three state-run choice programs did not fare as well, 28.5 percent reached proficiency in English, while 15.6 did so in math.

This year’s average English language arts score for public school students was 18.6. A score of 20 is considered the benchmark for college and career readiness. The average math score was 20.1. According to ACT developers, students with a math score of 22 have at least 50 percent chance of getting a B or better in a college-level algebra class.