3 Critical Takeaways From Wisconsin’s 2019 NAEP Results

Will Flanders, WILL Research Director

The latest results from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveal persistent and concerning trends about the state of education in Wisconsin. The NAEP, a test administered in schools and districts all over the country, is the best barometer for making comparisons on the state of education between states. Below are three takeaways from the 2019 NAEP.

Wisconsin’s Racial Achievement Gap is Persistent and Troubling

A persistent and troubling story in Wisconsin education is the gap between African American students and white students. The 2019 NAEP results reveal, once again, the racial achievement gap in Wisconsin was the widest of any participating state and jurisdiction besides Washington D.C. In practice, the NAEP scores indicate that 8th grade African Americans in Wisconsin are performing academically just one grade ahead of 4th grade white students. The gap for Hispanic students is smaller, but still significant. While State Superintendent Taylor referred to the achievement gap as a “crisis,” the agency she leads appears to offer few solutions beyond throwing more money at schools.

Milwaukee Charters Continue to Outperform MPS by a Wide Margin

According to the NAEP, Milwaukee’s charter schools are performing much better than traditional MPS district schools. In 4th grade math, Milwaukee charter schools scored 235 on the NAEP — relatively close to the state average for 4th graders of 242. MPS schools scored a 212. 10 points on the NAEP equates to approximately a grade level of progress, indicating that charter school students in Milwaukee are about two grades ahead of their public school peers.

This achievement gap is particularly notable given political attacks on charter schools from Governor Evers, presidential contenders like Elizabeth Warren, and the Milwaukee teachers union.

Proficiency Rates Flat Despite Spending Increases

Wisconsin has invested a record amount of money into public education in the last two state budgets. Despite this continuing growth in education funding, there is little evidence of an impact on the academic performance of Wisconsin students. Since 2003–200, NAEP scores in math have remained relatively unchanged — ranging from a high point of 245 in 2011 to a low of 241 in 2005. Again applying the standard of 10 points roughly approximating a grade level, this means that changes over the past sixteen years have not constituted even a single-grade level shift.

That more spending is not improving academic outcomes should not come as a shock to those who study the issue. A report earlier this year from WILL found no relationship between the amount of money a school district spends and student achievement, consistent with national studies. To improve test scores, Wisconsin doesn’t need more money. It needs innovation and proven solutions.


While DPI is willing to acknowledge the gravity of the achievement gap, the agency remains stubbornly opposed to proven solutions. Year after year and study after study reveal that public charter schools, freed from the mandates of bureaucracy and unionization, do a better job educating exactly the type of students that need the most help. Giving lie to the claims that public schools are starved for cash, charters accomplish this task with thousands of dollars less per student. If those on the left are truly concerned about improving academic outcomes for minority students, they must stop demonizing the charter and private schools that get the job done.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty

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A non-profit law & policy group in Wisconsin. We defend property rights, voting rights, school choice, religious liberty & other ideas conservative.

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