Achievement gaps narrowing; district to tackle math next
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has released results of state standardized tests for Wisconsin school children. Milwaukee Public Schools’ test results show continued gains for students in reading, with as many as 25 MPS schools showing double-digit increases in their students’ reading scores.
Those schools include Eighty-First Street, Lincoln Avenue, Clarke Street, Hi-Mount and Franklin Elementary Schools. Two schools, Rogers Street Academy and Browning Elementary, had double-digit increases in both reading and math.
The annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), was administered statewide in autumn of 2010. Overall, 59% of all Milwaukee Public Schools students were proficient or advanced in reading. That’s an increase of two percentage points since the fall of 2009.
District administrators give part of the credit for improvement in reading scores to MPS’ Comprehensive Literacy Plan – new this school year – though when the WKCE was administered it had been in use just two months. The literacy program included new textbooks for all students from kindergarten through 8th grade.
It was launched after a massive retraining effort for elementary school teachers, who attended professional development sessions by the thousands last summer, and then jumped into the program in September. “We were able to build momentum by expressing higher expectations for students and staff, monitoring our schools for consistency, and setting up the new instructional design,” said Superintendent Gregory Thornton.
“We anticipate higher gains next year if we can continue the focus.”
The district and DPI analysis of WKCE data showed:
• 24 MPS schools had double-digit increases in the number of students reading on grade level.
• 25 schools had increases in reading proficiency rates of five to 10 percentage points, and 49 schools showed increases of less than 5%.
• 30 MPS schools had reading proficiency rates that were at, above, or within the overall state proficiency level.
• 26 MPS schools had proficiency rates in math that were at, above or within 90% of the overall state proficiency rate, though MPS math scores overall declined by one percentage point.
• Achievement gaps seem to be decreasing statewide. DPI reports achievement gap reductions across all racial and ethnic groups.
The overall WKCE results for MPS are particularly significant, given the high mobility of city students, a student poverty rate of more than 80% and the high number of special education students now concentrated in MPS.
Special education students now make up almost 19% of the MPS student population, a total of more than 17,000 students.
MPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Heidi Ramírez stated that “hard to serve students are better served in MPS,” a fact borne out by DPI’s comparison of MPS test scores with the test scores available for the first time for the publicly-funded voucher schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).
DPI’s review showed that 13% more MPS students are proficient in math than voucher students, and the MPS proficiency rate for reading is 4% higher than the rate for voucher students.
In addition, a comparison of test scores also shows that City of Milwaukee children who are economically disadvantaged have higher reading scores in MPS schools than those in voucher schools. “If you are a high-poverty or disabled student, you do better in MPS,” said Dr. Ramírez.
“Our schools are showing progress because they are working strategically.”
The DPI release showing MPS/Choice school comparisons is online at http://dpi.wi.gov/eis/pdf/dpinr2011_30.pdf MPS is on target to create a comprehensive program for science and math next year, similar to the district’s literacy plan, and district administrators believe that will boost math scores.
The math and science plan is being developed with the help of GE Foundation resources, but another resource is in danger of ending.
“MPS has had a state grant that funded math teacher-leaders in our schools,” said Superintendent Thornton.
“The governor’s proposed budget cuts include elimination of those critical staff members. We worry about being able to sustain our math focus without them. Our business partners are worried, too, because math is important to the development of students as future members of the workforce.”
Wisconsin Student Assessment System results for individual schools and districts levels are available on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Web site at http://dpi.wi.gov/sig/index.html. Click on “Data Analysis.”