National test scores released Wednesday show Wisconsin has the nation’s largest racial achievement gap among students.
In both math and reading scores in grades 4 and 8, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress measures student results, Wisconsin trailed only Washington, D.C. among the 52 jurisdictions included in the NAEP report for the gap between black and white students.
While Madison’s results were not specifically part of the report, the district’s contribution to the achievement gap is well known. On the Forward Exam in 2018-19, for example, 63.3% of white fourth-graders scored advanced or proficient in English Language Arts compared to 13.8% of black students. In eighth-grade math, 45.6% of white students scored in those levels compared to 4% of black students.
The state’s results held mostly constant from the 2017 report, when the last results came out, while national results mostly fell. Wisconsin eighth-graders were near the top of the list in both reading and mathematics overall, with five states ahead of them in reading and three in math.
According to the release from DPI, more than 3,300 Wisconsin students took the NAEP test last year.
State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor called the achievement gap a “crisis” in a news release responding to the results, echoing what she said at her State of Education address earlier this year.
“Closing these gaps is not only the right thing to do, it is imperative for our state,” Stanford Taylor said.
The Madison School District said because it was a statewide test, it would defer to the Department of Public Instruction for any comments.
School Board member Savion Castro wrote in an email that the results are a reminder the district needs to focus on literacy for its black and brown students, as "literacy empowers and liberates."
"At MMSD, it is critical that we support the work of district staff to implement a new reading curriculum and continue the work of crucial reading interventions at all grade levels," he wrote. "Additionally, we must build off the success of our 4K programs that have proven to close literacy gaps."
State legislators are considering a bill that could lead to expanded 4-year-old kindergarten opportunities around the state and in Madison. Early childhood education is often cited as a key opportunity to close the gap, and was also mentioned by Stanford Taylor during her State of Education speech.
"We have to get learning right on the front end or Wisconsin as a state will never achieve true success," she said.