Apples to Apples 2022: A Definitive Look at Wisconsin School Performance

Fourth edition of Apples to Apples report again finds school choice performance advantage

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) issued the fourth edition of the Apples to Apples report, a definitive and objective analysis of Wisconsin school performance across sectors. This year’s report, the first in three years due to pandemic disruption of the Forward Exam, finds that Milwaukee’s choice and charter schools continue to perform better, on average, than traditional public schools in Milwaukee. But the pandemic has taken a toll as proficiency rates across all schools, statewide, has dropped below 40% for the first time.

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What is Apples to Apples? The Apples to Apples report uses an analysis of student proficiency that accounts for school demographics. This analysis, in effect, determines how schools would perform if they had identical student bodies. Apples to Apples provides the most objective assessment of the state of education in the Badger State across public, charter, and private voucher schools.

What About Test Participation? The 2020-21 Forward Exam data was marred by variation in test participation. Some schools reported relatively normal rates of participation while others saw significant drops. An additional step of analysis was required this year to account for participation rates at each school.

Diving Deeper: The fourth edition of the Apples to Apples report, by WILL Research Director, Will Flanders, finds that Wisconsin school choice options continue to provide a performance advantage when demographics of a school are accounted for. Here are the biggest findings:

  • Students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program continue to outperform their public-school peers. Proficiency rates in private choice schools were 4.6% higher in English/Language Arts (ELA) and 4.5% higher in math on average than proficiency rates in traditional public schools in Milwaukee.
  • Charter school students in Milwaukee continue to outperform their public-school peers. In both math and ELA, independent charter school students in Milwaukee saw about 2.6% higher proficiency on average than traditional public-school students.
  • Forward Exam participation was higher in Milwaukee choice and charter schools. Compared to public schools, choice students in Milwaukee participated in the Forward Exam at a 46% higher rate. Independent charter school students participated at a 39% higher rate.
  • Statewide, choice students outperform their public-school peers in ELA. Proficiency rates were about 4.6% higher for students participating in school choice statewide than traditional public-school students. No difference was found in math performance.
  • Wisconsin continues to struggle with its achievement gaps. Statewide, a school with 100% low-income students would be expected to have proficiency rates 42% lower than a school with no low-income students. For African American students, that gap is 14% in ELA and 15% in math.
  • Little evidence was found that more spending affects student performance. Once student and district demographics are taken into account, the level of per capita spending in a public school district has no statistical impact on student proficiency.
  • Data inaccuracy is a major concern. Proficiency reported in the media and in WiseDash did not accurately reflect student proficiency and the impact of the non-test- takers. Proficiency rates were deflated this year and will, consequently, be inflated next year.
  • District size has a small, positive relationship with proficiency. Contrary to the argument that smaller districts perform better, larger districts performed better to a very small extent (0.03%) in Wisconsin when controlling for other factors.
  • For the first time, proficiency fell below 40% statewide in both math and ELA. Even accounting for test non-participation rates, proficiency in Wisconsin’s schools hit a record low in the 2020-21 school year.

What This Means: The value of this analysis is it puts Wisconsin’s schools on a level playing field to determine who is educating students best. The Apples to Apples report consistently shows that Wisconsin’s school choice options, private schools and charter schools, tend to outperform their traditional public-school counterparts when demographics are taken into account.

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Will Flanders, PHD

Will Flanders, PHD

Research Director

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