McKinney de Royston speaks with WPR about declining test scores

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) utilized the expertise of UW–Madison’s Maxine McKinney de Royston for a recent report on how Wisconsin schools are grappling with significant declines in test scores that are a fallout from the pandemic.

Maxine McKinney de Royston
McKinney de Royston

“Recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress found a steep decline in math and reading test scores for 9-year-olds across the country,” notes the report. “The test results show the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first-ever drop in math scores.”

The report adds that the drop in test scores was most pronounced among students of color and those from low-income families.

While the drop in test scores is alarming, McKinney de Royston, an associate professor in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, tells WPR the tests were constructed as part of a system that has failed students of color. She also notes they don’t completely predict future success.

“We use these tests to say, ‘Oh, now we’re in crisis,’ as opposed to saying, ‘Well, are we actually evaluating or assessing that which is important to us? Are we actually evaluating learning?” McKinney de Royston says.

McKinney de Royston adds that it is important to attend to the mental health challenges many students are facing:

“We have kids who are grieving. We have kids who are missing. And there wasn’t a whole lot happening around attending to those social-emotional needs, much less to support students learning at home,” McKinney de Royston says.

She says giving into the “learning loss narrative” at face value only adds more pressure in ways that are not supportive of learning.

“I think really putting the supports around thinking about what kids already know, creating strong classroom communities, creating classrooms where making mistakes and supporting each other is cultivated — that is what’s going to support more accelerated learning,” she says.

To support these efforts, the report notes that McKinney de Royston and other leaders are calling for more public school funding.

Learn more by reading the full report at

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