Recent scores on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress reveal that state education is lagging in its post-COVID-19 recovery. Michigan children, including some of the state’s neediest, are getting a raw deal from schools, as measured by their poor standardized test performance.
Pandemic-era school closures coincided with sharp decreases in test scores throughout the state. State education officials minimize the decline and posit that the worst of the losses are over.
“On average, from third to seventh grade, 54.5% of school districts increased their achievement scores in English language arts,” stated the Michigan Department of Education in September 2022. But student scores on state literacy assessments suggest more dire circumstances.
Most Michigan school districts showed improvement in their spring 2022 statewide test results over the previous year’s results. But the uptick was small in relation to the magnitude of the previous year’s loss.
Only 41.6% of third graders passed the English M-STEP test in 2022. That compares with 42.8% of students who passed the previous year and 45.1% in 2019, just before the onset of COVID-19.
Some 58.4% of the state's third graders failed the test in 2022.
“The number of third-grade students eligible to be held back based on reading proficiency increased by 20% in 2021-22,” said Molly Macek, Director of Education Policy at the Mackinac Center. “Even so, many of these students were promoted to fourth grade, unprepared and in jeopardy of falling further behind.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this spring signed the repeal of a state law that required third grade students to be proficient in reading before advancing to fourth grade.
Math and social studies scores took a hit, too. The lowest M-STEP scores came in social studies, with 15.5% of fifth graders passing the test in 2022 — compared with 15.6% the previous year and 17.4% in 2019. In sixth-grade math, 28.6% of students tested proficient or above, compared with 35.1% in 2019, the last time Michigan students took the test.
Elementary and middle school students were not the only ones forced to bear the weight of pandemic policies. An alarming number of high schoolers were deemed not college-ready according to their standardized test results. Post-pandemic SAT scores remain below their pre-pandemic levels. Test scores in 2022 suggested that only 28.1% of high school seniors were college-ready — compared with 34.5% in 2021 and 36.3% in 2019.
Some school districts reported dissatisfaction with test results in 2022. They blamed the disruption to learning from school closures. And it wasn’t just test scores these Michigan school districts were dissatisfied with. Graduation rates – especially in the Flint and Detroit school districts – have also declined.
Learning losses due to pandemic-era school closures still linger as the education outlook in Michigan continues to decline. Though school districts across the nation are struggling to get students back on track, Michigan’s response has so far been to social-promote unready students while enacting laws that get rid of accountability measures for schools and teachers.
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