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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin students haven't recovered academically, according to newly-released test results

Sign reads, "Welcome back to school fourth grade."
Emily Files
A sign welcomes students back to school at the Academy of Accelerated Learning in Milwaukee.

New state test scores show schools have work to do to catch students up academically after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, the Department of Public Instruction released public school standardized test results from spring 2022. More students took the tests this year than in 2021, making it a more accurate snapshot to compare to pre-pandemic numbers. The tests were not administered in 2020.

>>Find your district's test data here

Wisconsin third through eighth graders are doing worse in reading and math. Between 2019 and 2022, the percent of students proficient in each subject fell by four points to 37% in reading and 39% in math.

DPI Communications Director Abigail Swetz emphasized that students are doing better than they were last year, even if they’re not at pre-pandemic levels.

"The assessment results show we are in recovery mode as we move through the pandemic," Swetz said. "And I use that term very intentionally because recovery from something is a journey and we have not yet reached a destination we’re satisfied with. And to be honest, even if our results were the same level exactly as pre-pandemic results, we wouldn’t be satisfied with that either."

Wisconsin’s racial achievement gaps haven't increased, but they are still vast, with a 35-point difference between Black and white students in reading and a 41-point gap in math.

Milwaukee Public Schools, which serves mostly low-income students of color, saw significant academic declines since 2019. The percent of third through eighth graders proficient in reading fell from 19% to 14% and 16% to 10% for math.

MPS spokesperson Nicole Armendariz released a statement focusing on improvements compared to 2021 results. But less than half of MPS students participated in the Forward exam (for grades 3-8) in 2021, because many students were still learning virtually. That makes comparisons between MPS's 2021 results and other years less reliable.

"Milwaukee Public Schools are seeing an increase in proficient and advanced scores on every test, in every subject area compared to spring 2021, although we know we still have work to do," Armendariz said. "We are working hard to help students regain what has been lost over the past two years and many new programs are in place to remove barriers to learning for our students."

Among suburban Milwaukee districts, which enroll a whiter and more affluent population, results were mixed. Students in some districts, like Shorewood and Pewaukee, bounced back to pre-pandemic proficiency levels, while others, like Wauwatosa and New Berlin, did not.

The pandemic affected student achievement nationwide, as evidenced by new results from the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the Nation's Report Card. Math scores for 9-year-olds fell by 7 percentage points and reading scores fell by 5 percentage points.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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