Wisconsin test scores show post-pandemic academic slide

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Test scores for Wisconsin grade school students show declines since the coronavirus pandemic and persistent gaps, though there were signs of progress in the last school year.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday on the math and language arts tests for grades three through eight released by the state Department of Public Instruction. The results showed fewer than half of Wisconsin students were deemed proficient in 2022, a drop of about 10% of students who were deemed proficient in 2019.

The tests were canceled in 2020 and had low participation in 2021.

Still, state education officials said there were signs of progress.

“Recovery from something is a journey, and we have not yet reached a destination we are satisfied with,” said Abigail Swetz, communications director for the state Department of Public Instruction.

About 39% of Wisconsin students scored as proficient or higher in math on the spring 2022 Forward exams, compared to about 43% in 2019. And about 37% were proficient or better in language arts, down from 41%.

The numbers also show continued disparities by race, income and other factors. Swetz said they point to areas that need more support from state programs, including proposals for universal free meals, more mental health support, and more funding for special education and general aid.

DPI Superintendent Jill Underly, with the backing of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, is proposing a $2 billion plan to boost education funding over the next two years. But that plan is subject to Evers winning reelection and the Legislature, controlled by Republicans, agreeing to it.

Evers’ Republican challenger, Tim Michels, said the scores show that Evers has “driven Wisconsin schools into a ditch.” Before he was elected governor in 2018, Evers served ten years as state schools superintendent.

Michels has suggested he would not provide public schools with any new funding and would consider plans that could lower the amount some public schools get, while increasing funding for vouchers for private schools.