Fox Cities, Oshkosh schools improve on test scores, but still trail pre-pandemic scores

There was some improvement last spring, but overall, Wisconsin students are still scoring below pre-pandemic levels on state tests, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction.

After the Forward Exams weren't administered in the 2019-20 school year and had significantly lower participation in 2020-21, the rate of students who took last year's exams inched back toward near pre-pandemic levels.

DPI leaders cautioned against comparisons between 2021 and 2022 because of the lower participation in 2021, when many students were still in virtual learning and didn't have the option to test. Students who don't take the test are essentially counted as not proficient, lowering the proficiency rate.

With that as a factor, proficiency rates rose significantly statewide between 2021, with low participation, and 2022, with near-total participation.

But the 2021-22 rates weren't back to where they were in 2018-19, pre-pandemic, a news release from DPI accompanying the data said.

Students of color and economically disadvantaged students also continue to experience achievement gaps that, in some cases, are worsening.

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Fox Valley school districts mirror the statewide trend.

In the Menasha Joint School District and the Little Chute Area School District, the number of students who scored at least "proficient" — showing the knowledge expected for their grade level — in English and math went up for the state Forward Exam for grades three through eight and 10, the ACT college admissions test and the ACT Aspire test.

Test participation rates for the English Forward exams made a return to pre-pandemic or near pre-pandemic levels for districts across the state and the Fox Valley. Little Chute saw the slightest dip of 0.1%, but there was an increase in the actual number of students.

In the Appleton Area School District, there were about 280 more students in grades 3-8 who took the required math and English Forward Exams, compared to the 2020-21 school year — about a 7.5% increase in participation.

Of those taking the test, those who scored at least proficient in math increased from 32% to 39%, while those were proficient in English language arts increased from 34% to 37%.

MORE: How did Appleton students do on standardized tests last year? Here are four takeaways from scores across the district.

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Comparing last spring's scores to the 2018-19 scores, among grade 3-8 students taking math and English language arts Forward Exams:

  • Hortonville Area School District: Math proficiency decreased from 55.4% to almost 54% and English proficiency decreased slightly from 49.2% to 48.7%.

  • Kaukauna Area School District: Math proficiency decreased from 56.4% to 55.1% and English proficiency decreased from 50.8% to 49.2%.

  • Kimberly Area School District: Math proficiency increased slightly from 70.2% to almost 71% — the highest of all Fox Cities districts — and English proficiency decreased from 66% at 58%.

  • Little Chute Area School District: Math proficiency decreased from 56% to 50.5% but English proficiency increased to 53.8%, from 52.6%.

  • Menasha Joint School District: Math proficiency decreased from 43.5% at 39.5% and English proficiency decreased from 31.6% at 28%.

  • Neenah Joint School District: Math proficiency decreased from 54% and English proficiency decreased from 51.4% at 45%.

  • Oshkosh Area School District: Math proficiency decreased from 42.3% at 37% and English proficiency decreased from 36.6% at 31%.

Participation levels among students of color rebounded after some steep declines the year before, but in most cases, an achievement gap remained between those students and their white peers.

In Menasha, for instance, white students in grades 3-8 taking the Forward exams had a 36% proficiency rate in English in 2021-22, while Black students were at 9% and Hispanic students were at 14%.

Racial gaps aren't the only disparities. About one-third of economically disadvantaged students in Kimberly were proficient on the English Forward exam. That numbers jumps to two-thirds for their non-economically disadvantaged peers.

Mixed results for ACT scores in the Fox Valley

While the English Forward exam saw consistent improvement across the Fox Valley, some districts — Neenah, Kaukauna, Hortonville and Oshkosh — saw decreases in ACT English proficiency scores.

Hortonville and Kimberly had proficiency drop for both English and math on ACT Aspire, an exam meant to help younger high school students prepare for the ACT and discover areas that need improvement.

But at many schools, the average composite ACT score — which averages the scores for English, math, reading and science portions of the test — improved from 2020-21 to 2021-22.

Most Fox Valley high schools improved in composite scores:

  • Appleton East: Increased from 17.6 to 18.5

  • Appleton North: Increased from 19.5 to 20.3

  • Appleton West: Increased from 17.9 to 18

  • Renaissance School (Appleton): Dropped from 23.2 to 22.3

  • Tesla Engineering Charter School (Appleton): Increased from 23.8 to 25.1

  • Kaukauna: Stayed the same at 18.5

  • Kimberly: Increased from 19.7 to 20.6

  • Little Chute: Increased from 19.2 to 20.4

  • Menasha: Increased from 16.8 to 18.7

  • Neenah: Dropped from 21.1 to 20.6

  • Oshkosh North: Dropped from 18.2 to 18.1

  • Oshkosh West: Dropped from 20.1 to 19.9

MORE: Kaukauna school district approves purchase of 144 acres of land southwest of Kaukauna High School

Reach AnnMarie Hilton at or 920-370-8045. Follow her on Twitter at @hilton_annmarie.

This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Fox Valley schools still below pre-pandemic scores on state tests