Wisconsin students' standardized test scores dropped in English and math last school year, and the average ACT score for 11th graders declined for the second year in a row, according to results released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction.
Scores on tests measuring English, reading and writing skills have dropped 3.4 percentage points over the past three years, while math scores declined for the first time after two years of gradual increases. Only about 4 out of 10 students were proficient or advanced.
The state's Forward Exams were given to 589,000 students during the second semester of the 2018-2019 school year. Nearly all public school students in third through eighth grades and those enrolled in private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers under the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide choice programs were tested. Results form the basis of school report cards that will be released later this year.
The results show a narrowing of the achievement gap, but only because white students' performances declined not because scores by black students increased. This is the second year that the gap has narrowed not because black students were performing better, but because white students were doing worse.
The gap in the percentage of white students who were proficient in math compared with black students ranged from more than 26 points in eighth grade to nearly 33 points in third and fifth grades. In English, the gap ranged from nearly 24 points in eighth grade to almost 29 points in seventh grade.
State education department officials said the lower scores point to the need for more K-12 education funding.
"We need to make sure we have the funding to make sure we meet all the needs of the student when they need it," said Elizabeth Tomev, the department's director of education information services.
Students in third grade through eighth grade took English exams, while students in fourth and eighth grades were tested in science. All 11th graders took the ACT, which is used to measure preparedness for college.
The average ACT score was 19.5, down from 19.7 in 2018. It was 20 for the two years prior to that.
On the exam measuring English, reading and writing skills, all students including those in private choice schools scored 39.3% proficient or advanced. That is down from 40.6% last year and 42.7% in 2016-2017. English scores decreased in every grade level tested, with the biggest drop of 4.1 percentage points coming in fifth grade. The smallest drop was 0.3 percentage points in eighth grade.
In math, 40.1% were proficient overall, down from 41.1% last year. The most recent math scores are down narrowly from 40.3% proficient or advanced three years ago. Math scores increased slightly in fourth and fifth grades, but dropped in all the others. The biggest decrease was 1.6 percentage points in sixth grade.
The math results will be analyzed at "many levels" to determine what happened, said Viji Somasundaram, the education department's director of the office of student assessment.
The science scores are not comparable to past years because the standards changed in 2017 and therefore were not reported by the education department. This marks the fourth year of the state's Forward Exam.