Wisconsin Student Performance on the Forward Exam

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

It has become common knowledge that Wisconsin students do not perform well in 4th grade reading, and that efforts to improve performance over the past two decades have been largely ineffective. On the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the only means we have to compare Wisconsin apples-to-apples to other jurisdictions, only 37% of our 4th graders performed at a proficient level or better in 2015, and our statewide score was statistically the same as it was in 1992. Because performance in other jurisdictions has improved over that time, our national ranking has dropped from 3rd in 1994 to 31st in 2013 and 25th in 2015. More details here.

Last week, DPI released scores on the first administration of the state Forward exam from the spring of 2016. The data is recorded in searchable form at http://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/portalHome.jsp On this exam, with its Wisconsin-developed content and proficiency criteria, approximately 43.7% of 4th graders reached the proficient level in English Language Arts. That is less than half of our state’s 4th graders performing proficiently. Forward exam results cannot be accurately compared to either the 2015 Badger exam, or the earlier WKCE.

There is a tendency to believe that the problem is confined to a few low-performing districts that bring down the state average. While there is definitely a performance gap between high-poverty and affluent districts, even higher-performing districts leave 30 to 40% of their students below the proficiency cut-off. For example, In the Greater Milwaukee area, MPS has 15.5% of its 4th graders scoring proficient, while the levels are 51% in Shorewood, 62.4% in Whitefish Bay, 64.9% in Elmbrook, 65.1% in Wauwatosa, and 70.8% in Mequon. In the Madison area, MMSD has 34.5% of its students at a proficient level, while Verona has 43.8% and Middleton/Cross Plains has 60.3%. There is plenty of room for improvement in all areas of the state.

We can also sort scores to pull out performance levels for different non-geographical sub-groups of students. Statewide, we see the usual gaps between different racial groups. 51% of white students are at the proficient level, as opposed to 39.7% of Asians, 23% of Hispanics, 22.3% of Native Americans, and 12.6% of blacks. 56.2% of non-economically disadvantaged students are proficient, versus 23.8% of economically disadvantaged students. Proficiency rates are 47.8 for students with no disabilities and 14.2% for those with disabilities (not including students with severe cognitive disabilities, who take a different assessment). Girls post 47.7% proficient, while boys are at 39.9%.

To find comparative scores for subgroups of students in your district, go to http://wisedash.dpi.wi.gov/Dashboard/portalHome.jsp, and under “WSAS” in the top drop-down menu bar, select “Forward” and “Forward Single Year.” Then enter the district or school, the type of student, the test type, test subject, and grade tested. You can also use the dashboard to compare different schools and districts.

See the official DPI new release, as well as commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal.

Related: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.