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Student scores plummet

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Things were bad in many Wisconsin public schools before COVID-19 hit. They got a lot worse when bureaucrats locked kids out of in-person learning during the pandemic.

“As Wisconsin students head back to the classroom this month, parents face a stark reality: other states handled COVID better and our kids are now way behind,” says CJ Szafir, president and CEO of the Institute for Reforming Government, in unveiling a back-to-school snapshot of the state of the Badger State’s public education.

“Our top students no longer compare to the nation’s best and, even more troubling, our struggling students face greater challenges than ever,” Szafir added.

IRG’s new report, “Facing Reality: How Wisconsin Schools Have Fallen Behind,” arrives just as national test results released Thursday show elementary school students’ math and reading scores plummeted to the lowest level in decades amid the school shutdowns of the past two years.

In math, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the “nation’s report card,” reported a first ever score drop among nine-year-olds since it was first administered in 1973. The cohort’s reading scores dropped by the largest margin since 1990, according to the New York Times reported.

National Review reported:

The assessment also measured the window between 2020, when Covid-19 erupted, and 2022. Average scores for nine-year-old students in 2022 declined five points in reading and seven points in mathematics compared to 2020.

The learning loss was experienced by kids across race and income level, but it was particularly severe among low-performing and minority students, a well-documented disparity that widened during the two years of remote school. Students in the 90th percentile of scores lost three points in math, but students in the bottom 10th percentile lost 12 points in math.

Black students lost 13 points in math compared with five points among white students. As a consequence, the White−Black score gap from 25 points in 2020 was expanded to 33 points in 2022.

A May study conducted by Harvard University found that school closures and remote learning disproportionately harmed the academic performance of minority and low-income students, exacerbating the existing gap separating low-income and minority students from their white and wealthier counterparts.

IRG’s report found Wisconsin’s education system:

› Ranked in the bottom 11 nationally in reading when compared equally

› Tied for last in history and civics education

› Finished last in math for black students

The report found achievement has dropped off over the run of the pandemic and the state and local lockdowns.

At the same time, the state’s popular parental school choice programs allowing children and families to escape failing public schools are still greatly underfunded, according to IRG’s report.

  • Voucher programs receive $8,500 per child, average school district receives $14,700, Milwaukee Public Schools receives $15,800
  • The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has waiting lists but no money to expand
  • Similar high school graduation rates in MPCP and MPS schools
  • Similar student turnover rates in MPCP and MPS schools

Failing to turn around Wisconsin’s slumping public schools system will continue to have significant consequences, the report states.

“We are average in GDP per worker, far below average in population growth, and the second oldest in the heartland. More non-White people end up in prison here than in any other state. All the while, we wait for something to change,” the report states.

IRG urges expanding parental choice opportunities.

“We can kickstart decades of growth if we give every child the skills to chase a purpose and every parent a reason to put down roots,” the report states. “If we act now, Wisconsin can avoid the fate of our Midwest neighbors and dictate our own course for the next half-century.”

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