New testing results released Tuesday show that despite improvement, less than half of Wisconsin public school students are testing at proficient levels, contributing to the state’s wide achievement gap.

The Department of Public Instruction released the 2013 results from a statewide standardized test aimed at gauging Wisconsin students’ proficiency levels in math and reading. The report indicated a slight statewide improvement in both categories from 2012 results.

Of Wisconsin public school students who took the test, 48.6 percent demonstrated proficiency in math while 36.6 percent were proficient in reading. In 2012, 48.1 percent of students tested proficient in math and 36.2 percent for reading.

The report said students are considered proficient if they score within a certain range, which is different for each grade.

After 10 years of use, the exam, known as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, will be retired this year. It will be replaced by a new system, which uses a more stringent national grading scale, in line with national Common Core standards put in place in 2010, according to the report. The new computer-based tests will be administered for the first time next fall.

While the scores for students taking the WKCE assessments have improved across all racial and ethnic lines, the improvements are minimal, and Wisconsin’s achievement gap has widened since 2008, according to the report.

“Wisconsin has one of the largest achievement gaps in the United States, and this has been recognized for a long time,” University of Wisconsin professor of educational policy and sociology Adam Gamoran said. “The WKCE is showing that Wisconsin has substantial inequities in the home environment of young people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

The report said this increase in Wisconsin’s achievement gap is in part due to a 5 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty as compared to 2009, now at 42.4 percent of public school students.

Because many of Wisconsin’s minority children live in poverty, this directly corresponds to educational achievement, Gamaron said.

“Minority students in Wisconsin tend to be concentrated in highly-segregated school systems, particularly the Milwaukee school system,” Gamoran said. “Although there are strong efforts to improve the quality of schooling in Milwaukee, it remains a challenging environment for academic success.”

State Superintendent Tony Evers has formed a committee of teachers and principals from both public and private schools to study and tackle the growing achievement gap. The group looks at the gap plans to investigate the gap between students of different backgrounds and will offer suggestions for improving the situation, DPI spokesperson John Johnson said.

Johnson added that members of the committee include staff members from schools that have high achievement among students of color.

“We are going to be working with educators and school leaders about what, specifically, they think can be done in classrooms to close achievement gaps and what school or district policies they think would help close those gaps,” Johnson said.

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