Guest Column

Decline in student testing will be Michigan’s downfall

November 6, 2015
| By Lou Glazer |
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There is lots of new data on student achievement by Michigan K-12 students, and it all comes to a singled conclusion: We are a national laggard. And that includes all kids — not just poor kids, minority kids and urban kids.

The results from the new state M-STEP assessment show Michigan students in reading — at all tested grade levels — to be about 50 percent proficient. In math, it’s about one-third proficient except for third- and fourth-graders who are around one-half proficient.

M-STEP is aligned with the Common Core, which is designed to prepare our children to use content, not just know content, as has been the case with previous standardized tests. Clearly, it’s a better measure of both college and career readiness.

The NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test results were released the same week as the M-STEP results. NAEP is called the “nation’s report card” and provides apples-to-apples data for all states for fourth- and eighth-graders on rigorous reading and math tests.

Michigan’s NAEP proficiency is even lower than its M-STEP: 34 percent in fourth-grade math; 29 percent in eighth-grade math; 29 percent in the fourth-grade reading; and 32 percent in eighth-grade reading. Proficiency was lower on each of the four tests in 2015 than it was in 2013. Not good!

Michigan is below the national average on all four tests, ranking 41st in fourth-grade reading, 31st in eighth-grade reading, 42nd in fourth-grade math and 38th in eighth-grade math.

Before you blame that poor performance on having more minority and/or low-income students than high-ranking states, you should know Michigan’s higher-income students rank 48th in fourth-grade reading, 33rd in eighth-grade reading, 45th in fourth-grade math and 41st in eighth-grade math.

Matthew Chingos, in an Urban Institute report entitled “Breaking the Curve,” calculates state performance on the 2013 NAEP if each state had identical student demographics. Michigan ranks 44th in performance in 2013 and 44th in change in performance from 2003-2013.

We have an all-kids problem!

For those who think charter schools are the answer, think again. Michigan’s charter schools are laggards. The U.S. Department of Education just denied Michigan a $45 million grant to boost and expand charter schools.

One of the reasons, according to the Detroit Free Press: “The reviewers weren’t just critical of the lack of authorizer oversight. They also scored the state low for the academic performance of charters, awarding 15 out of 30 points in that area. One of the reviewers said the percentage of charters ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state ‘is unreasonably high.’ Another questioned why, after two decades of charters, student outcomes are still just 'comparable' to traditional public schools.”

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in its Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness report,gives Michigan an overall grade of D. The state received another D for academic achievement and a bottom-of-the-barrel F for academic achievement among low income/minority students. Maybe even more concerning is that the report gives Michigan an F in both categories for progress since 2007.

In an increasingly knowledge-driven economy, this is a recipe for slow economic growth. Talent shortages will make it harder for companies to expand and for Michigan to attract new business investment. And it’s also a recipe that, if followed, will make Michigan one of the nation’s poorest states.

The single best predictor of state per capita income — except for states with energy-driven economies — is the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more. In 2014, Michigan was 35th in per capita income and 34th in four-year-degree attainment. In 2013, Metro Grand Rapids was 49th in per capita income and 34th in four-year-degree attainment among the 52 regions with populations of 1 million or more.

It’s almost certain that, unless we improve student achievement and education attainment, the state and region will not enjoy high prosperity.

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future Inc.

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