Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Distance learning, teacher shortage cited as potential reasons for drop in student test scores

Test scores declined across state, nation for K-12 students
Celia Hiorns

The Nation’s Report Card, created by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found that K-12 students in Wisconsin had average scores in comparison with the nation.

The report is an educational assessment that measures students’ knowledge across the nation in math and reading for grades four and eight.

Fourth and eighth grade students in Wisconsin — and across the nation — were assessed during winter 2022. Scores are collected on a scale ranging from zero to 500, according to the NAEP.


“The assessment is a couple of hours long, and they [students] are assessed on math and reading regularly — and then science a little bit less regularly,” UW Professor David Kaplan said. “The scores that we get are the scores that are reported at the group level.”

The average score of Wisconsin fourth grade students in mathematics was 240 — a score higher than the national average of 235. The average score of fourth grade students in reading was 217, while the national average was 216.

For eighth grade students in Wisconsin, the average score in Mathematics was 281 — higher than the national average of 273. The average score of eighth graders in reading was 262, higher than the national average of 260.

Test scores from 2022 decreased from test scores collected in 2019 — both nationally and in Wisconsin, co-director and founder of the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research Bradley Carl said.

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A decrease in scores was expected, according to Carl. Disruptions to teaching caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted student learning, and Carl said this impact was made clear in the test scores.

“I think everyone was waiting for this in some sense,” Carl said. “This was the first look at what learning losses might look like after COVID compared to before COVID.”

Data was collected at a state level, but school districts across Wisconsin had differing protocols in regards to learning during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carl said.

The state’s two largest school districts — Milwaukee Public Schools and the Madison Metropolitan School District — utilized virtual learning for longer than other districts in the state, Carl said.

The utilization of distance and virtual learning was dependent on various factors, according to Carl. Rural areas, where students may lack stable internet access, did not rely on virtual learning for extended periods of time, Carl said.

But the use of distance learning is just one potential factor that contributed to a drop in student test scores, according to Carl.

The state’s teacher shortage could also be a possible explanation to the decline in scores, according to Carl. Staffing challenges are particularly prevalent in rural and urban areas.

High school math and science teachers, special education teachers and English language teachers are also widely known to be particularly challenging areas in terms of staffing, Carl said. 

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“It’s pretty clear that the combination of the pandemic and the exacerbation of staffing challenges are probably at or near the top of the list in terms of things we would point to for trying to sort out why our scores went down,” Carl said.

The results of this testing are reliant on various factors, Carl said. Differences in familial incomes also play a role in how students across the state perform on these assessments.

But with the collection and analysis of test scores, strategies to improve learning across the state and nation can be implemented, according to the NAEP.

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