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Education Trust-Midwest Report Finds Michigan Students Lag, Disparities Remain

Education Trutmidwest Report

The Huffington Post   Posted: 02/ 9/2012 3:26 pm

Michigan students are lagging behind their counterparts in other states, according to a new study released by Education Trust-Midwest's, a non-partisan advocacy group based in Royal Oak.

The group's annual report finds that the academic performance of Michigan students from all socioeconomic backgrounds has declined since 2003 -- with especially dramatic drops for white and higher-income students.

White students' math scores fell from 13th in the nation in 2003 to 45th last year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

During the same period, eighth-grade reading scores for students from wealthier Michigan families have dropped from 21st to 30th in the nation.

And while wealthier and white students' scores are falling, rankings for non-white students also remain low, meaning little change to the state's achievement. The study found that Michigan "has not significantly narrowed a single achievement gap between students of color and white students, or low-income and high-income students since 2003."

The state's African-American students placed last in fourth-grade reading out of the 45 states reporting on the 2011 NAEP. They also scored last out of 44 states for fourth-grade math.

Although the report found that Michigan's Latino students scored above the national averages on fourth and eighth-grade reading in the NAEP, it noted scores remained flat between 2003 and 2011, a period of improvement for Latinos in other states.

The study drew special attention to Detroit's Latino students, who perform far below the national average for urban students. Latino eighth-graders in Detroit ranked 12th out of 18 cities in reading on the 2011 Trial Urban District Assessment, a test targeting urban school districts.

Venturing beyond raw test scores, the study's authors also focused on some positive developments.

They commended the Michigan Board of Education's decision to revise the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MAEP), deflating test scores to more closely mirror the results of the NAEP. They also praised Inkster's Baylor-Woodson Elementary for winning EdTrust's national "Dispelling the Myth Award" for demonstrating high achievement in a low-income district.

Last year, 73 percent of Baylor-Woodson's fifth-graders showed "advanced" scores in math, compared to 45 percent across Michigan. For reading, 63 percent of fifth-graders scored "advanced," compared to 44 percent statewide.

The school, which is 98 percent African-American, has shown steady improvement since 1996, according to EdTrust.

David Zeman, the group's spokesman, told The Huffington Post the Inkster school's students illustrate how a struggling district can break from its past.

"They show that low-income, high African-American student populations -- in a traditional public school environment -- can compete with any school when its leadership and faculty are focused and dedicated to high achievement," he said.

The report's authors also cautioned state education officials to proceed slowly with the creation of the Educational Achievement System, a new statewide school system that will take over and operate the bottom 5 percent of Michigan's low-performing schools.

"To have any chance of succeeding, EAS leaders will need to build slowly," the report said. "In keeping with lessons from similar work in Louisiana and Tennessee, they will need to devote time and resources to developing infrastructure and operating systems that provide the transformative building blocks of high-performing, high-poverty school."

Although the report does not directly address Michigan's reduced K-12 budget, it does implore state political and education leaders to "offer the leadership and resources needed to turn around student performance."

Last year, State lawmakers dramatically slashed Michigan's school budget and other social programs, while simultaneously offering a $1.7 billion tax cut to state businesses.

In his fiscal year 2013 budget announcement Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder said the state will restore about 1 percent of funding to the School Aid Fund, but the per-pupil allocation (cut by $430 last year) will remain the same.

Under the new funding structure, schools that apply "best practices," including outsourcing non-instructional services and raising employee health care premiums, will be eligible for competitive state grants.

When asked about the impact of the cuts to Michigan's school fund, EdTrust Executive Director Amber Arellano said research shows resources affect school quality.

"That's particularly true for high-poverty schools," she said. "That said, resources alone don't dictate school quality or the quality of the instruction for students. It's not just the amount of money that matters -- it's how effectively schools use it to better serve students."

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