Assignment: Education – private choice students’ ACT performance below state average

The Wisconsin Legislature now requires private choice schools to report students’ test scores so that both public and voucher schools receiving taxpayer dollars are being held publicly accountable for student performance.

The results of the 2015-16 statewide ACT assessment that were reported to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show a discrepancy between the performance of public school students and private choice students.

More public school students scored proficient or advanced in the ACT and DLM, or Dynamic Learning Maps, which is an alternate test for students with significant disabilities, than their peers in private choice schools.

“People feel strongly about their public schools because we’re pretty darn successful,” said Tony Evers, state superintendent of public instruction. “And that fact that we score well on the ACT test is a reflection of that.”

The superintendent for Catholic schools in the Diocese of La Crosse, Tom Reichenbacher, says 38 of the 66 schools in the diocese, which spans from parts of Western to Northern Wisconsin, participate in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Within those schools, about 10 percent of the junior class are private choice students. Those students are a part of the statewide statistics.

“Overall, yes, I understand what you’re saying. The choice students have a lower score,” said Reichenbacher. “But the non-choice students are also part of that class within our schools, and so we work with them together. And we know, overall, that our total group is performing extremely well.”

The Aquinas Catholic School System is one of seven systems in the Diocese of La Crosse that take part in the choice program. This year, there are 11 juniors at Aquinas High School who received a school voucher. Nine of those students took the ACT and two opted out of the test.

“Nine did pretty well,” said Ted Knutson, president of Aquinas Catholic Schools. “The composite score was 22.3, which is above the state average.”

Last year, the state average ACT composite score for private choice students was 18.2. The public school students scored 20.1. Local public educators hope more can be done for all students.

“In our district, and a lot of districts, I know it’s about continuous improvement,” said Fran Finco, superintendent of the Onalaska School District. “So when you look at the data that you have there, you don’t get angry that some people aren’t performing as well for the same money or more. You just hope that they do better for kids, because they’re the ones that don’t get a second shot.”

This year’s individual ACT scores are just being released.

A statewide comparison of the performance of this year’s junior class may be released next October.

The Wisconsin superintendent said more work still needs to be done to find a way for the accountability systems to be the same for publicly funded traditional schools and the private choice schools.