About 7 percent of Wisconsin students attending private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers and 3 percent of public school students didn’t take a state test last year meant to measure academic performance.
Among the 367,318 public school students in grades three through eight, 2.8 percent didn’t take the test.
Within the statewide voucher system — which is one of three systems in Wisconsin, along with Racine and Milwaukee — 60 percent of the 415 students in grades three through eight didn’t take the state test, called the Badger Exam, last spring.
Twelve percent of the 497 eligible students in Racine’s system and 5 percent of the 10,733 students in Milwaukee’s system didn’t take the test, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Instruction.
Overall, 7.4 percent of the 11,645 voucher students in grades three through eight didn’t take the test.
Most of the students who didn’t take the exam were those whose parents opted them out of taking it, a movement that ballooned last year in Wisconsin.
More than 700 students in the Madison School District opted out in 2015, part of the 8,104 public school students who opted out statewide — a substantial increase from the 87 and 583 students, respectively, who opted out last year, school district and state data show.
The surge nationwide in recent years represents a movement of parents opposing testing in growing numbers. Opposition to the number of tests given, how scores are used by lawmakers in determining school accountability, and using scores to evaluate teachers contributes to the growing numbers nationwide.
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The increase in Wisconsin also came as lawmakers moved to get rid of the Badger Exam, Wisconsin’s version of the Smarter Balanced exam that was developed using questions from a consortium of states aligned to Common Core, which state Superintendent Tony Evers adopted in 2010.
The rollout of the test in Wisconsin schools last spring included several delays, and technical glitches forced schools to use a scaled-back exam that did not adapt to students’ abilities as intended.
Gov. Scott Walker in his 2015-17 budget scrapped the test and signed a bill prohibiting the 2015 test scores from being used to measure schools’ progress and teachers’ effectiveness, giving parents another reason to have their children opt out.
Jim Bender, president of voucher school advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin, said the high rate of opt-outs among students in the statewide program is likely because of the small number of students using a voucher in each grade.
Parents choose to opt their students out because the rest of the child’s class isn’t taking the test and removing them from the classroom to take the test would signal to others the child was there using a voucher.
Given the statewide program’s high rate of opt-outs, DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said it would be challenging to accurately measure the schools’ academic performance if the rate continues.
Bender said he expects the opt-out number to decrease as more students attend private schools using vouchers, making the data more reliable.