Our Editorial: Detroit students lag country, again
Detroit schools are once again dead last for how their students performed on a national test. And not by just a little — by a lot. This is the fifth test since 2009 the state’s largest district has landed in that position, and it should serve as a serious wake-up call for change.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is given every two years to a sample of students in all states and measures important subjects like reading and math. Students took this test in 2017.
No standardized test is a perfect measure, but the consistency of how poorly Detroit kids do on these exams points to a failed system that is resistant to reform. It also highlights the challenges of education in high-poverty, minority districts.
As on the other tests, students at Detroit Public Schools Community District scored in single digits for proficiency in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math — something no other urban district did.
Among all grades and subjects, Detroit posted the lowest scores. In the benchmark of fourth-grade reading, only 5 percent of students scored proficient or higher (meaning they passed the test). The average for 27 large districts was 28 percent, with the top two districts scoring at 38 and 42.
Detroit’s eighth-grade reading scores were barely better, with 7 percent meeting proficiency. Math scores were even lower, with only 4 percent of fourth-graders proficient.
Those numbers mean that Detroit students are years behind their peers. Catching up will be a monumental challenge.
Since these students took the standardized test, the district has undergone some major changes, including hiring Superintendent Nikolai Vitti a year ago. He is very aware of the problems facing DPSCD and is working to ensure classrooms are using updated curriculum and are tackling reading in a systematic way.
It’s worth noting that two of the large city districts that made the most progress and scored highest on the NAEP are Miami and Duval County — two Florida districts where Vitti previously worked. Prior to getting the Detroit job, Vitti was superintendent in Duval County. So he’s seen what works.
While Detroit’s students are the farthest behind, Michigan as a whole remained fairly stagnant in its performance. Although students made slight gains, Michigan’s scores are below national averages. Nationwide, scores aren’t great, either. Only about a third of eighth-graders and 40 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading and math.
This latest round of scores reinforces what we already know about the need for a new approach to education in Michigan.
Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, says Michigan’s student performance is “well below top 10 education states.”
As Michigan seeks to attract new companies and boost economic development, the quality of K-12 schools matters. Businesses take note of these scores and other academic measures in making decisions of where to locate, and it’s one of the reasons Amazon passed on choosing Detroit for its second headquarters.
Other states showing gains have followed innovative reform plans and stuck with them for more than a decade. That kind of focus and consistency has been lacking in Michigan, where reforms come and go at a dizzying come and go.
Many different groups, including education and business, have put out plans recently for how to improve the state’s schools, and given it’s an election year, state politicians are starting to release their ideas, too.
This is an essential priority, and one that deserves an urgent action plan.