MILWAUKEE — Students who received vouchers to attend private or religious schools in Milwaukee improved their performance in mathematics and reading last year but still lagged behind public school students, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found that in the second year of testing last fall, about 40 percent of Milwaukee voucher students showed they were proficient or advanced in math, up nearly 6 percent from last year. Nearly 49 percent of local public school students and 78 percent of public school students statewide reached that mark.
On reading scores, about 56 percent of voucher students were advanced or proficient —an increase of about 1 percent from last year — compared with about 58 percent of Milwaukee public school students and nearly 82 percent of public school students in Wisconsin.
State Superintendent Tony Evers said math and reading achievement need to improve for all students. He pointed to Wisconsin's application for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, hoping to join other states that have already been granted breathing room from the landmark educational requirements.
"In our request for waivers from No Child Left Behind's broken system for evaluating schools, we advocate for accountability for results for all publicly funded schools," he said. "We must ensure that all students graduate with the knowledge and skills needed for the workforce or further education."
The Milwaukee choice schools tested more than 11,400 students. This year, the state also tested 60 students from the Racine voucher program. About 51 percent of those students were proficient or advanced in math, compared to about 62 percent in Racine public schools. For reading, nearly 56 percent hit that mark compared to about 69 percent of public schools.
Overall, student achievement in mathematics increased and achievement gaps between some races narrowed this school year compared to six years ago — despite the increasing number of children in poverty.
Still, John Johnson, DPI's director of education information services, said more work needs to be done.
"The gaps are too big in terms of achievement for students with disabilities, they are too big in areas of race, students with socio-economic disadvantaged backgrounds," he said. "While gaps are closing we need to continue that progress."
More than 428,000 public school students in third through eighth grades and high school sophomores took the tests as part of the Wisconsin Student Assessment System, which has been used every fall since 1992 to test students in reading and math.
The state plans to start a new test in the spring of 2014-2015 school year for third through eighth grades and high school juniors. The current tests measure students' performance at only one point in the year and the new system will have higher expectations and measure progress throughout the school year.
This year nearly 42 percent of students who took the tests came from families with incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, which has been increasing. The numbers are higher for minority groups: about 81 percent of black students, 77 percent of Hispanics, 68 percent of American Indians and 52 percent of Asian students are considered low-income.
The 78 percent of students statewide who showed proficient or advanced math skills is up about 5 percentage points from 2005-2006. Black students showed the largest improvement, closing the gap by 7.5 percentage points compared to white students between 2005-06 and 2011-12. It also closed by nearly 5 percent for American Indians, more than 6 percent for Asians and nearly 7 percent for Hispanics. It only closed about 1 percent for disabled students compared to nondisabled students.
Overall reading achievement was down about 1 percentage point from last year, but was slightly higher than the 2005-06 school year. The gap widened slightly for reading between disabled and nondisabled students.