In his bid for state school superintendent, John Humphries is trying to use incumbent Superintendent Tony Evers’ long tenure against him.
"It's time for Tony Evers for State Superintendent to be held accountable for statewide outcomes," Humphries posted Jan. 12, 2017 on Facebook. "We've dropped from a top 10 state in elementary reading to 30th in the nation under his watch while other states have made substantial gains."
Humphries, a consultant with the Dodgeville School District, is in a three-way primary battle with Evers and retired Beloit Superintendent Lowell Holtz. The primary election is Feb. 21, 2017.
To back up his claim, Humphries’ campaign pointed to an analysis by the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, a grassroots group of educational advocates that wants changes in reading instruction.
The group has endorsed Humphries and believes Evers has not pushed education schools to use new methods for instructing teachers how to teach reading, said Steven Dykstra, a psychologist who co-founded the coalition.
The coalition published a historical look at Wisconsin’s reading ranks based on annual results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which bills itself as the "largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know."
The NAEP test, taken by a small sample of students, is the best source to analyze Humphries’ claim, though it is not without drawbacks.
Let’s take a look at the 4th-grade scores, the only elementary-school grade that NAEP tests.
NAEP publishes two types of rankings. One simply orders states by their average reading scores. But because those scores often are too closely bunched to be significant, NAEP also reports how many states have statistically higher or lower scores.
Here’s the history on Wisconsin’s rankings, using both methods:
1998: 6th by raw order; 1 state significantly higher
2003: 22nd, 8 states significantly higher
2005: 24th, 11 states
2007: 25th, 8 states
2009: 30th, 19 states
2011: 25th, 15 states
2013: 31st, 15 states
2015: 25th, 12 states
So by the cruder measure, the raw ranking, Wisconsin was a top-10 state.
The most recent year showed a ranking of 25th -- not the 30th Humphries claimed. But its ranking has been as low as 31st on 4th-grade reading during Evers time as superintendent. (Wisconsin’s scores were stagnant while the national average increased).
On Evers’ watch?
So the history helps Humphries’ case, but did that decline come, as Humphries claimed, under Evers’ watch?
Only if you define Evers’ "watch" as dating to 2001, when he was appointed deputy superintendent of public instruction under newly-elected State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster.
Evers took control of the agency after he won the spring 2009 election. At that point, Wisconsin’s reading rank already had fallen to 30th, with 19 states significantly ahead.
That gives a different perspective on Evers’ record.
Comparing the first test in Evers’ time atop the agency to the most recent, the ranking improved from 30th to 25th, and from 19 states significantly better to 12 states.
Two final notes before we grade this.
The picture for Wisconsin is somewhat brighter using the second, more statistically precise ranking method published by NAEP.
In 1998, Wisconsin was sixth in raw order, but only one state was "significantly higher." In the most recent three tests, Wisconsin’s rank in raw order was 25th to 31st, but only 12-15 states were "significantly higher."
The state Department of Public Instruction, the agency Evers heads, has used both measurements in its public statements on NAEP over the years.
Finally, Wisconsin looks better on 8th-grade reading, where it ranks 9th. But Humphries’ claim focused on referenced elementary school, generally considered Kindergarten-5th grade.
Humphries said Wisconsin has "dropped from a top 10 state in elementary reading to 30th in the nation" under Evers.
The drop is real, by an oft-cited ranking from a credible source, but the latest rank is 25th, not 30th.
And Facebook readers who aren’t deeply familiar with Evers' career might assume from Humphries claim that the decline happened while Evers was state superintendent. Evers was a top staffer for much of that time, but most of the decline came before he took over.
We rate the claim Mostly False.