MADISON, Wis. — New test scores released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) showed overall test scores are getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, but the gap between white and Black students has grown.

What You Need To Know

  • Across the board, student test scores dropped throughout the pandemic

  • Overall, they're starting to rebound in Wisconsin, according to new data

  • Wisconsin has the biggest opportunity gap between white and Black students of any state

  • The new numbers show that gap got even wider

For years on the Nation’s Report Card, Wisconsin had the widest opportunity gap between white students and Black students compared to all other states. That held true in 2022. White students scored anywhere from 16% to 37% better than their Black peers, depending on the subject.

DPI released state testing data Tuesday. The Forward exam is administered to third through eighth graders in the spring.

In math, 42% more white students tested proficient than Black students. Last year, there was a 41% gap.

In English language arts, almost 37% more white students tested proficient than Black students. Last school year, there was about a 35% gap between white students’ and Black students’ scores.

Staff from DPI said they think about this gap every single day. They said they believe mental health services and correcting a lack of school connectedness can help.

“We are talking again and always about making sure our students feel welcomed and affirmed in our schools,” said Abigail Swetz, the DPI communications director. “That includes our Black, indigenous, and students of color, that includes our LGBTQ+ students. And it really goes to what we believe so strongly about making sure that the whole student is safe and supported in our schools.”

She said while that can’t magically fix the opportunity gap, it can be a good first step for staff. That way, they know which students need more interventions and supports.

When we look at overall trends in Wisconsin, some scores are creeping closer to where they were pre-pandemic. The 2018-19 school year is the most recent year that test scores were not affected by the pandemic. That year, 43% of students tested proficient or above in math. It dropped to 33.6% in the 2020-21 school year. This year, that number is 41%.

During the 2018-19 school year, students scored almost 41% proficient in English language arts. During the pandemic, that number dropped to 33.7% of students who were proficient. This year, it’s above 39%.

There’s been a lot of conversation around the backslide in test scores and overall learning throughout the pandemic. Many call it “learning loss,” but DPI staff said they aren’t fond of that term.

“We think it’s really really important when we talk about our students, and their holistic experience, and their holistic needs that are being met, the loss that all of us have experienced through COVID-19 is not just one kind of loss, but is something that needs to be dealt with in a more holistic way,” Swetz said.

To explore more test data, click here.