National education test results show small improvement statewide, in Detroit

By: - October 30, 2019 4:44 pm

Tawanna Jordan, a DPSCD teacher, instructs students with ModEL teaching tool | Ken Coleman

According to national test results released today, Michigan has secured its spot in the middle of the pack compared to other states, but a majority of students are still below proficiency and the national average in math and reading. 

The 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as “the nation’s report card,” shows that while other states’ scores and the national average dropped, Michigan hasn’t seen much change since the last time the test was administered in 2017.

While other standardized tests, like the M-STEP, show yearly changes for public schools within Michigan, NAEP, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, compares state by state results.

Not every student in the state will take the test each year, but NAEP assesses representative samples of students to reflect the demographics of the nation, state and urban area. About 300,000 students from traditional public, charter and private schools around the country took the NAEP in the spring of 2019.

Michigan’s eighth graders ranked 28th in the nation in math and reading, and Michigan’s fourth graders ranked 32nd in reading and 42nd in math. 

While these rankings seem modest, these are slight improvements from 2017, especially in fourth- and eighth-grade reading, which were ranked 35th and 30th, respectively, in 2017.

The improvements in literacy are especially important for Michigan’s third-grade students.

This year, schools across the state are working hard to improve reading skills for younger students to eliminate the potential threat of the third-grade read-or-flunk law.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, results from the M-STEP show about 5,000 of Michigan’s third-graders are projected to be held back based on reading scores.

“It’s great news for our students and families that we’re making progress on literacy,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “And it’s important to note that this would not have happened if not for the hardworking educators who have dedicated their lives to our kids.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Michael Gerstein

Whitmer also said the results from NAEP are a “step in the right direction,” but there needs to be improvement in funding, teacher salaries and early literacy programs.

Based on NAEP results, Michigan has the lowest percentage ㅡ 32% ㅡ of fourth-graders reading at proficiency compared to neighboring states. Ohio and Wisconsin are at 36% for proficiency in fourth-grader reading, Indiana is at 37% proficiency and Illinois is at 34% proficiency.

While Michigan’s rankings seem promising at national perspective, the data shows that rather than Michigan’s students improving in these areas, the actuality is that many states are falling behind. Nationally, reading and math scores have dropped, while Michigan’s scores have stayed stagnant. 

Michigan’s scores also still come in below the national average in most areas, except for eighth grade reading where it is slightly higher. 

NAEP scores are based on a 500-point scale.

Grade & Subject 2019 MI average 2017 MI average 2019 National average
Grade 4 math 236 236 240
Grade 4 reading 218 218 219
Grade 8 math 280 280 281
Grade 8 reading 263 265 262

Michigan School Superintendent Michael Rice said the state’s improvements are impressive considering “two significant challenges: a statewide teacher shortage (there are teacher shortages nationally), which adversely affects most severely the highest poverty and/or most remote districts, and inadequate and inequitable state funding for Michigan’s 1.5 million children.”

The NAEP also analyzes test score data specifically for 27 urban areas around the country, including Detroit’s public schools ー charter and private schools were excluded.

The city’s public schools ranked last compared to other large cities, and has since 2009 when it began participating in the city comparison. 

But, it wasn’t all bad for the district.

Detroit’s fourth-graders saw the greatest improvement in math proficiency  out of any of the other urban areas that participated in the test. The city’s average math score jumped 5 points since 2017, from 200 to 205. The 2019 average math score for other large urban areas was 235.

The district’s fourth-grade English learners also had great improvement with a 14-point jump in reading scores from 2017.

Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD general superintendent | Ken Coleman

“Two years ago individuals encouraged me to drop out of NAEP testing,” Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tweeted Wednesday morning. “We have to stop thinking our children are not able to do better and provide them and those who serve them the resources, strategy, training and leadership to improve and perform.”

Despite these improvements, Detroit still had the lowest average math and reading scores for both fourth- and eighth- grade students compared to students in other large cities. 

“Today is cause for a sobering celebration,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy, research and advocacy organization based in Royal Oak. “On one hand, it is heartening to see Detroit regain some of its lost improvement in 4th grade math from previous years. Also, between 2017 and 2019, Michigan low-income students led the nation for improvement in 8th grade math. These notable gains should be applauded.”

Arellano credits Vitti for much of the district’s improvements since changing the district’s curriculum, investment in educators, and upcoming improvements to educator evaluations.

“On the other hand, the data suggest that Michigan is many years away from becoming a top education state for all students, particularly students who are most left behind in our state,” Arellano continued. “This new data should be a clarion call for changing how we invest and support public education for all children in our state.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.