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Politics & Government

State Officials Hope to Solve Achievement Gap Problem


New national test results find black eighth graders’ reading scores in Wisconsin rank lowest in the country.

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress also show reading scores for black fourth graders were second worst.

In addition, the achievement gap between black and white students here is the highest in the country in both math and reading.

Wisconsin’s numbers have been consistently low compared to the national average. The achievement gap hasn’t narrowed in 20 years. Other states at the bottom for reading scores among black eighth graders are Mississippi and Alabama.

NPR’s Education Correspondent Claudio Sanchez says the results don’t surprise him.

“We’re showing what most people already know and that is that poor, urban black and Latino kids are way behind white and Asian kids,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez says the NAEP tests are designed to expose significant problems at the state level.

“You are seeing big gaps, persistent gaps that are decades old in some states like Wisconsin,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez notes a number of states raised their testing and academic criteria when they began implementing Common Core Standards.  They aim to provide a consistent framework to prepare kids for college and the workforce.

Wisconsin introduced Common Core in 2010; full implementation is expected to be completed next year. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction acknowledges it needs to help all students succeed. Spokesman John Johnson says he’s confident there will be positive results from the rollout of Common Core.

“At the national level, the federal government pointed to eight states that have already implemented the Common Core and all eight states saw gains in their student achievement,” Johnson says.

Johnson says the state must be vigilant in its commitment to educating large numbers of poverty stricken students. Republican state Rep. Steve Kestell is chairman of the Assembly Education committee. He worked with DPI on the implementation of Gov. Walker’s literacy initiative in 2012. Kestell says he believes, in time, things will turn around.

“There’s better screening in every classroom for early learners and the state is providing the funds for that and the tool so we can have a consistent screening of young student to find out who might need additional help to get them on track so they can become proficient readers,” Kestell says.

Kestell credits DPI with being involved daily with the Milwaukee Public Schools, as it aims to improve test scores. He believes MPS also has made better decisions recently with its curriculum and teacher training opportunities.

We contacted MPS for reaction to the latest NAEP report. The district declined, saying the figures show statewide results, not numbers specific to Milwaukee.