VARC's Carl Addresses Wisconsin's Achievement Gap

Bradley CarlBradley Carl, a Researcher and Associate Director with the Value-Added Research Center, was interviewed by The Capital Times following the release of Wisconsin’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results on Nov. 7.

The article, which appeared on Saturday, Nov. 9, records Carl’s reaction to the state’s scores. Carl said he was surprised only by the “magnitude of the grimness” of the results, rather than by the trend shown in the NAEP data. Wisconsin continues to have large achievement gaps between black and white students, and this year had the dubious distinction of having for the first time the largest black-white gaps amongst all 50 states in all four reported areas (4th and 8th grade reading and math).

In terms of identifying causes for the troubling trend, “Some would argue we haven’t been innovative enough, or when we have been innovative, it’s been in the wrong ways,” Carl said in the article. “We have pursued choice-based reform as a blanket, “magic bullet” strategy; that hasn’t paid off. We've invested in class size reduction across the board; that maybe isn’t a magic bullet either.”

Carl said instead of one smoking gun or single solution, there are multiple causes for the achievement gap, and a number of routes that should be pursued to close the gap. Research shows that the most effective solutions include identifying and replicating what high-performing schools are doing right, focusing in improving teacher and principal quality, and incentivizing the most effective teachers to work in the neediest schools, Carl said in the article.

Carl, who is VARC’s embedded researcher for the Milwaukee Public Schools, said for a long time, Wisconsinites could say the state’s outsized achievement gap was a “Milwaukee problem.”

“But places across the state, from Madison to rural districts, look a lot different,” he said in the article. “We’re no longer at a point where we can say that.”