State Sen. Jennifer Shilling
Press Release

Wisconsin ACT scores plummet

State drops from 2nd best to 9th worst in the nation

By - Jan 13th, 2016 10:51 am

MADISON – Newly released ACT scores show a steep decline in student test results. The drop in average test score from 22.2 to 20.0 coincides with an increase in the number of Wisconsin students taking the exam and comes after several years of Republican budget cuts that have impacted public education in the state. These scores dropped Wisconsin from 2nd best to 9th worst in the nation (tied with Kentucky) among states where more than half the students took the exam.

“Local school districts have really taken it on the chin these past several years and I think these test scores are a reflection of that fact,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). “Teachers in Wisconsin are working harder than ever, but Republican budget cuts, special interest giveaways and a misguided focus on Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign have taken a toll on our schools. This drop in ACT scores is particularly concerning given Wisconsin’s ongoing economic challenges, workforce shortages and shrinking middle class.”

In his recent presidential campaign, Gov. Walker frequently used the state’s ACT scores as a metric for his education policies. While Wisconsin has traditionally ranked above average in terms of ACT scores, these latest numbers place Wisconsin dead last in the Midwest and among the bottom ten states nationally.

“Families across Wisconsin are concerned about the direction of our state,” added Shilling. “Parents have noticed the overcrowding in classrooms, teacher shortages and increased referendums. Families I’ve heard from are concerned that Republican legislators sold out our schools to support the special interest groups behind Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign. Hopefully these ACT scores are a wake-up call to legislative leaders. As troubling as these latest numbers are, I know that we can turn things around in Wisconsin if we recommit to putting our schools and students ahead of special interests.”

Nationally, Wisconsin saw the fourth largest cut to K-12 general school aid funding in 2015-16 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute. Wisconsin was one of only 12 states to cut general funding per student when adjusted for inflation.

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34 thoughts on “Wisconsin ACT scores plummet”

  1. evian says:

    You seem to have forgotten to include that DPI said any comparisons to previous scores would be “flawed” because of significant changes in the pool of test-takers.Until this year, the ACT scores reflected those taken during senior year, in many cases by students who had taken it multiple times. The drop was expected because of a new mandate that requires all juniors to take the exam.

    I’m sure that was just an honest mistake though.

  2. Fred craft says:

    Ah, the right appears here to defend the significant drop in ACT scores. How convenient of you to forget to mention that by only including tests taken by seniors and tests given ONLY to college bound students that the pool of students was severely reduced to INFLATE Wisconsin’s average score prior to this last year of data. Now that you are being accurately and honesty compared to the rest of the nation your scores drop to the 41st, or 9th worst. You republicans want it both ways. You want to limit the data to make yourself look great when in fact you have already destroyed a once successful state wide educational system. Once again, when you look behind the Walker agenda and see the results, you find a fraud of a leader, and a disgrace to this once great state.

  3. AG says:

    Fred, what are you talking about? The decision to have all Juniors take the test had nothing to do with manipulating data, in fact it was to give us a better idea of where all students in the state stand on college readiness.

    And it’s not 41st out of 50… it would be “9th worst” of states where more than half of studnets take the test… which is around 29 (was last year anyway).

    But even that doesn’t tell the story, because you have to look at the other states that require ALL students to take the test. Of those, I think only Utah, Illinois, and Colorado had an average score of 20 or more. Of states where all students are required to take the test, that would mean we’re probably 4th highest. It could be slightly different because I don’t know the most recent numbers, but hopefully you get the idea of what I’m pointing out here.

  4. Frank Galvan says:

    Scott Walker puts the dunce cap on Wisconsin…yet again!

  5. Holly Lebeck says:

    The scores are indicators of a larger problem-It’s not just putting money into public schools, the desire for education is faltering in the home. The family is the basic unit of society and parents need to be involved in their child’s education and help them with goals; there are so many options widely used that can benefit each youth.
    And heck, not every youth needs to go to a 4-year college. There are a ton of reasons to “work smart and hard” by going to a technical college, apprenticeship, trade school. They don’t all require going to take an ACT, high school transcripts or GED works. Time to wake up to options and earning money, rather than stick to this wacky tradition with debt.

  6. Janet Dykstra says:

    What data are you using? Please provide a reference.

  7. Zukey Badtouch says:


    Lazy journalism is lazy.

  8. Rachel says:

    Ok, I am not a fan of the right, but one big thing is left out. Beginning in 2014-15 school year, ALL 11th grade students were required to take the ACT. So you went from college bound students taking the ACT to all kids. That is going to skew the comparison to previous years big time. Before you likely only had kids planning to go to college taking the test. If you were going in the military or straight to work, tech colleges, probably not. Now EVERYONE is taking it. And correct me if I am wrong, but it was a state initiative to do that, not federal. Which means all of Wisconsin’s kids are being stacked against the college bound nationwide. I wonder if WI would rank the same if every 11th grader in every state was taking the test.

  9. Thom Y says:

    Whether the change in state scores are because of the group of students taking the test (juniors and seniors) or because of changes in the educational state (funding, # teachers/student, teacher experience, class size, etc.) an examination of the data might give educators and legislators a clearer picture. Surely the data can be segregated to provide averages comparable to previous state averages. While I am in agreement that the cuts in education in Wisconsin will be detrimental to students in our state, I don’t think a rush to judgement can be made with the numbers given in the artcle.

  10. Alan says:

    Soooooo…… ACT scores fall and funding was cut for the 2015-2016 year. How does funding for the current year affect previous ACT scores? But ya… it HAS to be Walker’s fault right. You liberal progressives have to do much better than this con job of an article. What a joke!

  11. Dave says:

    1. The article does not provide a source.
    2. The official sources do not agree with the article:
    Article is false.

  12. Tim says:

    Dave, that press release was issued in August 2015, before the changes went into effect. If I remember right, aren’t there testing times for ACT during Fall & Spring?

  13. Dave Reid says:

    @Dave 1. It isn’t an article. It is a press release (It is labeled as such). 2. And if you look here: Under: 2014-15 Average ACT Performance* You’ll see this line: All Students 64,323 20.0 19.3 20.0

    That said we hope to have an article that takes a look at these numbers.

  14. Dave says:

    @DaveReid Thanks for the link! However it states clearly at the top “Percent of 11th-Grade Students Scoring Proficient or Advanced” these are the scores for the juniors only!

  15. Rachel says:


    I read the article you posted. They said the class of 2015, which means they likely took the ACT during the 2013-14 school year (junior level), prior to all 11th graders taking it. If you read further it says all juniors took it in the spring of 2015, with the results due back later in the fall (meaning after the article’s August 2015 publish date).

    End of second paragraph:
    “With virtually all of Wisconsin’s public school 11th-graders having taken the ACT this past spring as part of statewide assessments, ACT participation will rise dramatically next year and scores are expected to decline. Those results for last year’s 11th-graders will be reported later in fall.”

    I would not be surprised if Wisconsin’s scores did decline, and the article you posted even anticipated it. The 2015 class in Wisconsin had 73 percent taking the ACT, presumably the kids planning on attending post-secondary education. The 2016 class will have closer to 100 percent taking the class (assuming some kids will be sick or not in attendance on the day the test is taken), so adding 27 percent of kids who previously did not test will change the results as they are likely students who were planning to enlist in the military or go straight into the workforce or trades, which do not require an ACT score.

  16. Dave Burki says:

    @Rachel thanks for checking it out and I agree. Upon further examination, it would appear that these test scores are those achieved by our high school juniors only, and do not include our high school seniors’ achievements. Press release is extremely misleading 🙁

  17. Rachel says:

    @Dave I work in the media field. Part of what I do is not just regurgitate what a press release tells me, but try and analyze it and ask questions. Press releases are PR. You have to look beyond that and do your own analysis, which is something not many people do. We really do need to teach critical thinking skills.

    I am not sure how many seniors take the ACT. I know it does happen, but with college acceptance deadlines, kids want to apply in the fall. If you put off applying, you may not get in. So I am sure some students do take the ACT in the fall, or retake it hoping for a higher score, but the majority likely take it their junior year, which is why the 11th graders are measured, not the seniors.

    Anyway, I would affiliate the decrease in ranking on the ACT scores to the increase in students taking the test. I believe at least 6 other states require all students to take the ACT in 11th grade. It is not a national requirement, it is something each state decides for their students. That needs to be taken into account when comparing, because in some cases it is apples to apples (100 percent of all students compared to other states with 100 percent), while in others it is almost apples to oranges (100 percent of all students compared to 50, 60, 70 percent of students). Some kids do not test well. Some are going into field that do not require high academic grades. Those kids probably were not taking the test prior to it being mandatory.

  18. PaulS says:

    Never let the bad guys define the terms of the fight.

    Overlooked in all of this is this simple truth: ACT scores are not a valid way to assess either student success at the individual level or a school/district’s success at the systemic level. They are a *common* way to do it; that usage is not proof of validity. You can give an elephant the monkey test, discover the elephant is a poor tree climber; but if you want to conclude that the elephant is a poor elephant because of the monkey test scores (PLUMMETING ELEPHANT SCORES; FILM AT 10), you’re not making sense any more.

    So if you’re a Walker supporter, you’re off the mark to have brayed about ACT scores ever. And if you’re not, you’re equally wrong to fret a change in the numbers. This is a *political* game. It isn’t an *educational* metric. Great teachers help to graduate great students, who go on to further education (tech, 2 year, 4 year, grad school). There is no evidence–NONE–that correlates ACT scores with success in higher education. It’s a sleight of hand bowl of pseudo-science.

    Schools DO need more funding. But if Rep Shilling and Gov Walker want to address funding, then they need to scrap the inherently racist property tax funding scam and fund all schools at just level. Or, as Rep Gannon might do: just give the finger to the ACT. Then, as Rep Gannon *does not do,* get down to the hard work of fixing the statewide, broken, public school system.

    Bottom line: if we want to know how a school is doing, maybe we can push Rep Shilling and Gov Walker (grandstanding for votes as always and never much solution help) OUT of the way and ask three groups of people who never seem to be heard how their schools are doing (in order of the famous “Skin in the game” metric): Students, Parents, and Teachers.

  19. Dave says:

    @Rachel You’re right to apply critical thinking, but I think you’re missing my point. The average ACT test score for WI juniors ONLY for 14-15 was 20.0. There is not the drop in ranking they the press release implies as they are not combining the scores with the seniors for comparison.
    The 22.2 score for 13-14 comes from the combined score of ALL WI high school students, including seniors: The graduating class score for 14-15 was also 22.2:
    The press release compares the scores of only juniors in WI to the scores of juniors and (mostly) seniors in other states.

  20. AG says:

    It seems to me that, regardless of which side of the education debate you are on, this press release was embarrassingly awful and misleading.

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Some of these press releases seem to be written so quickly in response to a newspaper story or release of data or whatever, you get the feeling politicians (and both sides are guilty of this) just keep a template or two around at all times, spend a few minutes filling in the blanks, and then send it off, without bothering to actually think about anything they have written.

  22. Katherine says:

    If states where 100% of juniors take the test, Wisconsin is ranked 9th out of 14. Still really bad any way you slice it.

    Colorado – 20.8
    North Dakota – 20.8
    Illinois – 20.6
    Montana – 20.5
    Michigan – 20.4
    Utah – 20.4
    Wyoming – 20.4
    Kentucky – 20.1
    Wisconsin – 20.0
    Tennessee – 19.9
    Louisiana – 19.4
    Alabama – 19.1
    Mississippi – 19.0
    North Carolina – 19.0

  23. Dave says:

    Good lord people are not good readers! The 20.0 figure does not include the 14-15 graduating class scores and are not a valid comparison to make with the other states, which do include the 14-15 graduating class scores.

  24. Dave says:

    Next year let’s have our 3rd graders take the ACT and use that as a sole comparison with other states’ graduating classes. We might even finish last.

  25. Dave Reid says:

    As promised a story on the ACT scores: Did Democrats Overreact to ACT Scores?

  26. Dan Scerpella says:

    So many folks opining here seem to have basic comprehension problems. The seniors taking the test did exactly the same as last year 22.2 which was second in the nation behind Minnesota. In order to come up with the bogus 41st stat DPI dishonestly included juniors in their sample. There has been no comparison to similar states here.

    So the proper takeaway from this using the same rationale of the score reflecting the success/failure of the Governors initiatives would be that Wisconsin seniors did as well as they ever have comparatively even though state aid was reallocated and local school districts were given the power to control educational spending. So less money same great result. This actually reflects well on Act 10 and Walkers other moves not poorly.

  27. Thom Yockey says:

    Dan, So glad to see you credit the hard work of teachers in your comment! As to your credit of Act 10 and Walker’s policies and their impact, we’ll see in a few years if that holds.

  28. Dan Scerpella says:

    Thom Yockey goes without saying that our fine Wisconsin teachers get a lot of the credit for the continual high ACT scores that Wisconsin’s students have been getting. What I was pointing out was the logical fallacy being used to blame Scott Walker which could as easily be reversed to give Walker credit. It also bears noting that while Wisconsin teachers gladly take credit, they essentially never take the blame for for example, the declining MPS test scores over the last 20 years. This also re highlights a logical disconnect in the teachers argument against ACT 10 in which presumes that teachers who have to pay a small percentage of their health care benefits and pension plans become less effective teachers.

  29. Fred says:

    Why is this article still here? It has been discredited by every link listed above as well as just about every reputable news agency within and without Wisconsin. Normally I would suggest you pull it to save yourself further embarrassment, but given the length of time it has been posted, I am guessing your own lack of education fortuitously allows you to avoid such embarrassment.

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