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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 12, 2015

Citing collective bargaining law, Scott Walker says Wisconsin's rank on ACT test has risen to second

Gov. Scott Walker is a contender for president largely because of the collective bargaining reforms -- affecting teachers and most other public employees -- that he signed into law following massive protests in Madison.

On June 2, 2015, at a Florida gathering of announced and likely Republican candidates for the White House, Walker credited the March 2011 law for what he said was Wisconsin's improved ranking on the ACT college preparation test.

"A lot of protesters at the time claimed that public education was going to fail," Walker said, then went on to list changes made by what is known as Act 10.

"I’m proud to tell you that today, we no longer have seniority or tenure. That means we can hire and fire based on merit, we can pay based on performance. That means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can pay them to be there.

"I said the proof is in the pudding; the facts don’t lie. Four years later, graduation rates are up, third-grade reading scores are up, ACT scores are now second-best in the country for states where more than half the kids take the exam."

Saying Wisconsin's ACT scores are now second-best suggests Wisconsin's ranking on the test has improved since Act 10 and that the law played a role.

Let's see.

Where we've been

Two previous fact checks help set the table for evaluating Walker's claim.

1. In February 2011, with the protests being carried out daily, the Wisconsin Democratic Party claimed that the five states that outlaw collective bargaining for teachers all ranked below 44th in the nation in test scores, while Wisconsin ranked second. PolitiFact National rated the claim False, partly because the data cited for both major college preparation tests -- the ACT and the SAT -- was a decade old.

More importantly, in terms of evaluating Walker's claim, our colleagues concluded after talking with experts that "it’s impossible to know whether collective bargaining has any role in causing test scores to rise. That’s because countless other demographic, economic and cultural factors play a role in shaping a state’s test scores."

2. In June 2014, we rated Mostly True a Walker claim that graduation rates and third-grade reading scores in Wisconsin were higher than when he took office in January 2011. Both numbers were up compared with the year before Walker took office. But we found that some credit may be owed to prior elected officials, because the trend lines hadn’t really changed much going back deeper into the pre-Walker era.

We also noted in that item that Wisconsin students’ longstanding high-achievement scores on the ACT are well known.

But let's flesh them out.

Here are Wisconsin’s average composite scores on the ACT, and where Wisconsin ranked among the states where more than half the students take the exam. Those are the ones Walker specifically cited in making the claim. We took a look at the three years before and the three years after 2011, when Act 10 was adopted.







3rd -- behind Minnesota and Iowa



3rd -- behind Minnesota and Iowa



3rd -- tied with Nebraska -- behind Minnesota and Iowa

2011 (Act 10 OK’d in March)


3rd -- behind Minnesota and Iowa



2nd -- tied with Iowa -- behind Minnesota



2nd -- tied with Iowa -- behind Minnesota



2nd -- behind Minnesota

So, Wisconsin's rank moved from third to second in 2012, the year after Act 10 was adopted, and has remained there.

But that's not because Wisconsin's long-stable composite score has improved. Indeed, the score is virtually unchanged since Act 10.

Moreover, as we noted previously, there is no evidence to show how any one factor affects ACT scores -- particularly an indirect factor such as a personnel policy like Act 10.

Matthew Di Carlo, senior research fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute, which studies education policy, reiterated that it would be "enormously complicated" to determine how any one factor  such as socioeconomic status affects ACT scores. That's all the more true for changes in collective bargaining -- a policy that affects personnel rather than one, such as tutoring, that directly affects student learning, he said.

And while Act 10 could have some indirect effects on ACT scores -- such as through the retention of teachers -- those effects couldn't be gauged for some period of years, Di Carlo said.

Our rating

Walker said that four years after his collective bargaining law took effect, ACT scores in Wisconsin "are now second-best in the country for states where more than half the kids take the exam."

There is an element of truth in Walker’s statement, in that Wisconsin's rank moved from third to second in 2012, the year after the Act 10 collective bargaining reforms were adopted. But the rank didn’t improve because of an improvement in Wisconsin’s score. And there is no evidence that Act 10 affected the ranking.

For a statement that has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we rate the claim Mostly False.

More on Scott Walker

For profiles and stories on Scott Walker and 2016 presidential politics, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Scott Walker page.

Our Sources

C-SPAN, video of Gov. Scott Walker (quote at 2:16:15), June 2, 2015, "Fact-checking CPAC," Feb. 27, 2015

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Scott Walker’s exaggerated education claims," March 3, 2015

ACT, "Average Scores by State" for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

Interview, Albert Shanker Institute senior fellow Matthew Di Carlo, June 4, 2015

PolitiFact National, "Labor union supporters say Wisconsin test scores vastly outpace those in five states without collective bargaining for teachers," (False) Feb. 23, 2011

Email exchange, Gov. Scott Walker press secretary Laurel Patrick, June 5, 2015

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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Citing collective bargaining law, Scott Walker says Wisconsin's rank on ACT test has risen to second

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