Wisconsin voucher students lag in latest state test
Scores statewide are much higher than they are for students in urban areas with high rates of poverty, but they are not impressive.
The new standard for proficiency adopted by the state last year is more in line with national expectations, but it has resulted in less than half of Wisconsin’s students being considered proficient in reading and math.
On average, 48.1% of students scored proficient or advanced in math, and 36.2% of students scored the same in reading on the 2012 tests.
“Adjusting to higher expectations will take time and effort, but these are necessary changes that will ultimately help our schools better prepare all students to be college and career ready,” state Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.
The results from fall 2012 are the first time the state has released the state test scores under the new and stricter proficiency benchmark. Last year it retroactively reached into 2011 scores and recalibrated them against the new benchmarks.
The 2012 statewide math proficiency score of 48.1% is unchanged from the recalibrated fall 2011 state test results.
The 2012 statewide reading score of 36.2% inched up from 2011’s recalibrated results, which showed 35.8% of students proficient or better in reading.
In a statement Bob Peterson, president of Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, said the test results of the voucher schools should be a sign to legislators to not pass the proposed funding freeze on “the successful public schools.”
“They should provide fair funding for our successful public school system, and stop throwing money away on underperforming vouchers, so that all students in Wisconsin can continue to have access to a high-quality public education.”
To compare results over a longer span of five years, the DPI recalibrated state-level results from 2008-’09. All student racial and ethnic groups made some improvement over that time period, though black students made the least amount of improvement over that time period compared with the progress made by white, American Indian, Asian and Hispanic students.
That persistent gap is a problem in a state that has a reputation for having one of the highest black-white achievement gaps in the country.
Giving poor children of color a shot at a better education by enabling them to attend a potentially higher-performing private school with the help of a publicly funded voucher was the thrust behind the start of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program 23 years ago.
The choice program allows low- and moderate-income students to accept a publicly funded voucher worth $6,442 annually to attend a qualifying private school. The program is controversial not only because most of the schools are religious and infuse chapel services or science curriculum that denies evolution, but also because the schools are not subject to the same accountability requirements as the public schools, such as having to turn over graduation rates or report teacher absences.
Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, said an important aspect of this data is that it has not had the necessary three-year cycle of data needed to make an accurate depiction of progress.
“We are looking at a snapshot of data,” Bender said. “We have students that are entering the MCPC program from a static point that are multiple points behind average MPS students and that shouldn’t be shocking to anybody because they test significantly lower.”
Bender is pleased to see the yearly progress in each subject area by choice students, up one percentage point in both reading and math from the 2011 exam for all grades where MPS is down 0.3% in math and up 0.2% in reading.
The fall 2012 administration of the WKCE is the third time that Milwaukee’s voucher schools have been required by law to take the state test, and about 1% of children – about 290 pupils – opted out. Only five students in MPS opted out of the exams.
In eastern Racine County, where just 500 students are using a publicly funded voucher to attend a private, mostly religious school this year, results from a small number of students tested in 2012 showed about 24% proficient in math and 19.5% proficient in reading, compared to the public school district’s average of about 28% of students proficient in math and 21.6% proficient in reading.
Laura Sumner Coon, executive director of SOAR of Racine Inc. – a nonprofit that helps students receive scholarships to attend choice schools – cautioned against reading too much into the comparisons between public and private schools.
“I’m uncomfortable with the comparison as though it were apples to apples,” Sumner Coon said, citing the fact that it is only the second year of the Racine-area voucher program, and that only 170 students were tested.
Search for the latest scores for individual schools on the DPI website by going to bit.ly/11GCXbd