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Sep 12

Students need more resources and program support, WEAC President Martin says

The state Department of Public Instruction is reporting that standardized test results for the 2018-19 school year show a slight decline from the previous year.

“Wisconsin Public School educators are working hard every day to educate the whole child – academically, socially and emotionally,” said Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “The annual standardized test scores measure academic achievement at one point in time, and at the start of a new school year educators welcome everyone in our communities to discuss how, together, we can address increasing barriers to learning including strapped school budgets, student poverty, trauma and mental health concerns.”

In addition to successfully advocating for more school funding in the 2019-21 state budget, WEAC has increased the number of programs it offers to help teachers and support professionals understand and teach students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Working toward solutions to the teacher shortage is also key, and WEAC is advancing a series of recommendations from a statewide salary system to improving school climates, all outlined in its 2019-20 white paper, Moving Education Forward.

According to the DPI, four in 10 Wisconsin students were proficient or advanced in the 2018-19 school year. For English, reading and writing, 39.3 percent of students met proficiency standards on the Wisconsin Forward Exam, down from 40.6 percent in 2017-18 and 42.7 percent in 2016-17. In math, 40.1 percent met the proficiency standard, down a point from the previous year. Wisconsin has set the bar high to achieve proficiency, with one of the highest cut scores in the nation which are aligned to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. 

ACT scores dropped for 11th graders, who had an average of 19.5. That was down from 19.7 in 2018 after the average had been 20 in each of the two prior years. Previously, only students who were preparing for college and those taking college-preparatory courses took the ACT, but in recent years all high school juniors have been given the test, whether or not they are enrolled in college prep courses.

The state’s achievement gap between white and minority students narrowed slightly, but due largely to a decrease in performance by white students. For example, the percentage of white fifth graders who rated proficient or advanced in English dropped 4.6 percentage points, while scores were down 1.6 points for African American fifth graders. Martin noted that educators are organizing in school districts across the state to push back on increasing class sizes that prevent them from giving students the one-on-one attention they deserve. 

The decrease in overall scores is slight, and Martin said the years of defunding public schools under the previous governor have a definite impact.

“Years of defunding public schools take a toll on the resources available for our students,” Martin said. “While a first step toward restoring some of the lost funding has been taken with the 2019-21 state budget, the damage won’t be repaired overnight.”

Martin noted that even with overwhelming public support for more education funding in the just-passed budget, Republicans in the legislative majority made deep cuts to Governor Tony Evers’ initial education budget plan. “The lack of support demonstrated by the legislative majority has a direct impact on general and special education school aids, preventing our most vulnerable students from getting the services and resources they need.”

Private voucher schools, which are increasingly enrolling students from affluent communities under the statewide voucher program, did not test nearly 10 percent of their students, even though they are required to give the state tests and are funded by taxpayers. Public schools, which serve all students no matter where they live or their economic status, posted a 98 percent participation rate.