‘Nation’s Report Card’ shows Wisconsin at or above national average for math, reading, but high racial achievement gap remains

MADISON, Wis. — A new report this week shows that reading and math scores have dropped nationwide, but one thing that’s grown in many states including Wisconsin is the racial achievement gap. 

The report, known as “the Nation’s Report Card,” is a test conducted nationwide by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and was conducted this year for the first time since 2019.  It focuses on fourth-grade and eighth-grade math, reading, science, and writing.  

According to the report card, nationwide math scores saw their largest decreases ever and reading scores dropped to 1992 levels.  

Here in Wisconsin, while eighth-grade math and reading scores declined, all scores showed the state is either at or above the national average.  

But what grew in many states, including Wisconsin, is the gap between white students’ and Black students’ performance.  

“Wisconsin has for a while and it’s been too long because any time of a racial disparity in testing scores is too long,” Swetz said. 

Education officials said it allows them to see on paper just how the COVID-19 pandemic affected learning.

“Students who were struggling the most previously are struggling more now,” said Abigail Swetz, the communications director for Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction.

In the 2022 Report Card, Wisconsin had the second-largest gap in the country between white students’ and Black students’ test scores for math and reading. 

On a 500-point scale, white students in Wisconsin scored an average of 248 points in math, nearly 50 points higher than Black students’ score of 201. For reading, the gap was 40 points. 

For eighth graders, white students scored an average of 291 while Black students scored an average of 237. Their reading scores were 38 points apart.

“We’re getting the feedback that they’re seeing a lot of mental health needs in their classrooms, which is why we’re trying to meet that need with our budget requests,” Swetz said.  

For next year’s budget process, DPI wants $36,000,000 to expand aid for school-based mental health professionals — money that would go directly to each district.

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“Even the smallest one would be able to fund a full-time staff member to work with mental health,” Swetz said.   

DPI leaders say COVID-19 had a big impact on mental health — between remote learning and family members losing jobs — and these test scores show it. 

“One of the things we absolutely know is that students who feel a safe emotional well-being who feel positive in terms of their mental health and their community that they’re in school with achieve better on tests,” Swetz said.  

While the report card tests a sample of students in each state, it found Milwaukee Public Schools was below average for large cities, among all its students, notably 22 points behind in fourth-grade reading and 21 points behind in fourth-grade math.