Milwaukee’s NAEP scores among the worst in the country, only after Detroit

By Ola Lisowski for the MacIver Institute

Results from the 2019 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, released earlier this month, show a stagnation in average student scores accompanied by a widening of achievement gaps. The data also demonstrate a stark reality in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the state’s largest district.

MPS students scored 22 points less than the large city average in reading.

Compared to 27 urban districts across the country, Milwaukee 8th grade students were behind the pack, scoring an average of 22.0 points lower in math than the average for large cities. The gap is larger than 2017’s difference of 20.1 points. Only students in Detroit fared worse than in Milwaukee when comparing only large districts. 

The difference is also wider than in 2009, when Milwaukee students performed 19.8 points worse than the average for large cities nationwide.

MPS students performed similarly on reading, with an average score at MPS 14.9 points lower than the national large city average. That score is also a bit worse than the difference in the last exam, 13.2 points. In 2009, MPS students scored 11.0 points below the large city average, demonstrating a widening of the achievement gap over the last decade. 

Proficiency results showed small gains over the last ten years, though MPS scores were still worse than the average achievement in similar districts. Just 11 percent of 4th grade students showed math proficiency on the latest exam. 

In 2009, 6.6 percent of MPS test-takers were proficient in math. In reading, 16 of MPS students were proficient or better on the 2019 exam, compared to just 12 percent in 2009.

MPS students had the fourth-lowest math proficiency out of all urban districts highlighted by NAEP. Detroit fared the worse (6 percent proficient), followed by Cleveland (13 percent) and Baltimore City (15 percent). On average in large cities, 34 percent of students are proficient or advanced. At 49 percent, students in Charlotte had the math highest proficiency.

Out of 27 large districts examined, 11 districts performed significantly lower in 4th grade mathematics this year compared to the last administration of the exam in 2017. Ten districts did not perform significantly different compared to 2017, while six performed significantly higher. None of the six districts showed improvement on this exam are in the midwest—three are in Florida, in addition to Charlotte, Austin, and San Diego. 

At 212 of 500 points, the average score for students in large cities was lower for reading than for math. Fourth grade students in ten districts improved compared to 2017, while four districts did not change, and 13 districts performed worse.

MPS students scored 22 points less than the large city average. Similar to the math scores, that was the second-largest deviance from the large city average, followed only by Detroit. With 14 percent of 4th grade students proficient in reading, MPS students scored the fourth-lowest reading proficiency rating of any large city. 

NAEP scores are reported for reading and math for both 4th and 8th grades. MPS students performed worse in 2019 than in 2017 for all four categories. 

For the state as a whole, Wisconsin’s achievement gaps on the NAEP exam are the second largest in the country, only after D.C.

Ola Lisowski is a Research Director at the MacIver Institute who focuses on education and tax policyReposted with permission.

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