Michigan trails other states in fourth-grade reading. Report warns it could get worse
Michigan’s public education system remains in a perennial rut, according to an annual state education report released Tuesday, and the state's young readers are projected to fall farther behind their peers in other states by the end of the decade unless changes in school funding and resources for students are made.
Still Stalled: 2022 State of Michigan Education Report by education advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest said by 2030 Michigan is projected to be 39th in the nation for fourth-grade reading performance — down from its current ranking of 32nd — if nothing changes.
Michigan is in the bottom 10 states for Black students in fourth-grade reading, according to the 2019 National Assessment for Educational Progress, which is the most recent available national assessment data.
Other leading states showed steady gains in student performance over the last 16 years, yet Michigan’s fourth-grade reading scores have stagnated, said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest.
Between 2003 and 2019, Michigan's performance in fourth-grade reading — an important predictor of a child's future academic success and life outcomes, according to education experts — remained stagnant on the test while leading education states — Massachusetts and Tennessee — made significant progress.
With the release of the report, a statewide coalition of business, civil rights and civic leaders called on state leaders to invest in and accelerate the educational recovery of Michigan’s students. It also comes amid growing concerns about Michigan's economic competitiveness and its connection to the state's educational outcomes.
Alice Thompson, chair of the education committee at the Detroit Branch NAACP, said if Michigan had a fair school funding system, its Black and Latino students, English language learners, students with disabilities and students living in high poverty districts would receive a 100% weighted, equitable funding formula.
"This funding would eliminate the achievement gap and foster a solid path for mastery of grade-level proficiency, embodied with a high degree of social and emotional support," Thompson said.
Arellano said the state’s longstanding stagnation in student achievement comes as 2021 results from the M-STEP suggest that student achievement growth slowed overall for Michigan students — with the greatest impact on underserved students.
"While these results are clearly troubling, they also represent an opportunity for our state to create a ‘new normal,’ where every student has the opportunity to achieve and where students with the greatest needs receive the funding and resources they need to succeed," Arellano said.
Michigan's 2021 state assessment scores dropped in math and social studies for all grades tested while reading scores for older students improved slightly. Michigan students recently took state assessments in April and May. Those results are typically available in late summer.
From 2003 to 2019, Michigan’s Latino students improved in early reading at a rate that was about one-third the progress Latino students were making nationwide. At the same time, improvement in fourth-grade reading for Michigan’s White students are in the bottom five states, according to data from the 2019 NAEP.
Deidre Lambert-Bounds, a member of the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity coalition, said her hope is that every child has the ability to achieve at their highest ability without the barrier of inequitable funding.
"For far too long, we have not done a good job of properly funding education in a way that the students with the most needs receive funding commensurate with those needs,” said Lambert-Bounds, who is also president of Ignite Social Media. “I have a dream that we finally work together to put a proper funding formula in place that results in the highest quality educational outcomes for our children."
Other findings from the report:
• Michigan has ranked 43rd of 47 states in the nation for funding gaps that negatively impact low-income students. Additionally, teachers in Michigan’s wealthiest districts are paid about $8,600 more, on average, than teachers in Michigan’s poorest districts.
• Nearly 1 of every 4 Michigan students — about 23% — were required to take at least one remedial course in two- and four-year college or university programs. The percentage for historically underserved groups such as Black students is 43.8%.
• Michigan has the nation’s sixth-highest out-of-school suspension rate for Black students. Advocates have argued suspensions and expulsions are overused in Michigan and across the country, particularly for students of color.
In February, researchers announced that after more than three full school years into Michigan's controversial Read by Grade Three law, 52% of Michigan's third-grade students had a "reading deficiency" between first and third grade and the rates were higher among historically marginalized student groups.
The report used data gathered in the spring of 2021 from nearly 9,000 educators and is the second year of a four-year evaluation of the law by Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, and her team.