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

MPS Test Scores Lag Behind State Average, But Leaders See Potential

Rachel Morello
PHOTO CAPTION: Demond Means, commissioner of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership program, speaks at a Press Club event in downtown Milwaukee. Means serves as superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District.

Wisconsin released its latest batch of standardized test scores on Wednesday, and challenges persist, including in Milwaukee.

Last year marked the first time the state administered the Badger exam, which was designed to test Wisconsin’s new academic standards.

When it came to students in grades three through eight, 51 percent tested proficient or better in English.

In math, 44 percent were proficient or better.

The results in Milwaukee Public Schools were at least 20 points lower, yet key players see potential in those numbers.

The man who will take charge of Milwaukee’s lowest-performing schools spoke at a Press Club event downtown, not long after the statereleased its new test results.

Demond Means recently became head of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. State leaders created the initiative in hopes of turning around the MPS schools that struggle most.

Means, a product of MPS himself, says he’s aware of its challenges. They include a persistent achievement gap between white students and students of color. Wednesday’s test scores show the trend continuing.

Means says the numbers situate MPS perfectly to serve as a testing ground for new, innovative strategies.

“Virtually 50 percent of all African American students attend school in southeastern Wisconsin, and/or specifically in Milwaukee Public Schools,” Means said. “So this is, I believe the epicenter for us to really roll up our sleeves and to make sure that we close the gap.”

Means says, in the schools he will help guide, he wants to implement practices he’s developed as chair of a state task force addressing achievement gaps. Those practices might include personalizing lessons and encouraging student-teacher relationships.

And, Means adds, everyone has to be invested.

“As Milwaukee goes, so goes Wisconsin, so we have to all collectively, across the state, make sure that the children of Milwaukee are receiving the very best educational opportunities that they can, because it will impact our economic future as a state,” Means said.

In response to Wednesday’s test results, MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver released a statement. It says district schools have work to do to improve student achievement.

She adds the district has put several initiatives to work, and they appear to be boosting student success in the middle school years. The efforts include a focus on literacy and an expansion of one-on-one supports.

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