Michigan public school students recently performed below pre-pandemic levels in reading and math, according to the latest statewide standardized tests. This happened even though schools received record funds to help students recover learning losses incurred during pandemic-era school closures.
Students in grades three through seven performed worse on the 2023 M-STEP in both English language arts and math, compared to 2019. There are not enough data to talk about 2020 or 2021, because the state did not require schools to administer the M-STEP those years.
But we can now use the 2023 data – combined with results from previous years – to paint a more complete picture of student performance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2023 M-STEP results suggest that most students in the tested grades are not where they should be in either English or math. Third grade is a key milestone for English language arts because reading proficiently in third grade is necessary to master the more advanced subject material introduced in fourth grade. Yet third grade ELA scores have dropped precipitously since 2019.
“Unfinished learning during the COVID and post-COVID years” is to blame for the 2023 results, said Sen. Dayna Polehanki, as quoted by Bridge Michigan. Polehanki chairs the Senate Education Committee.
Third grade students were especially hurt by the pandemic, said State Superintendent Michael Rice.
“This past year’s third graders were perhaps the most adversely affected of any age cohort,” Rice told Bridge, “as they had pandemic-influenced school years during grades kindergarten through second grade, a challenge that was particularly noticeable in reading.”
These early grades are critical to a child’s literacy development, so the focus on learning loss for young students is understandable.Performance of sixth and seventh graders in both English and math gets less attention. The share of seventh graders who scored proficient or advanced on the ELA test dropped from 43% in 2019 to 37% in 2023, a difference of six percentage points. This was the single greatest decline in the tested grades.
Sixth graders lost nearly as much as seventh graders. The share of sixth grade students scoring proficient or better fell from 42% to 38% over the same period. Fewer than one-third of sixth and sevent graders scored proficient or advanced in the math M-STEP in 2023, with proficiency rates in both grades decreasing by about five percentage points since 2019.
The downward trend in test scores was largely the same across family income levels, suggesting that school-related factors, not family socioeconomic status, contributed most to the change in M-STEP performance.
The elementary and middle school M-STEP results predict student performance in high school and beyond. They also provide schools with key data they can use to fill gaps in students’ learning.
Unfortunately, several programs that would have helped students recover learning lost during the pandemic-era school closures were struck down by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She vetoed legislation that would have provided families with reimbursements for summer enrichment programs, tutoring grants, and scholarships to cover the cost of learning supports. If the governor had agreed to the legislation, it would have empowered parents to secure more personalized services tailored to their children’s unique needs.
Schools can better ensure students’ success by directing funds to evidence-based programs in core subject areas. They can enhance teacher quality by adhering to robust evaluation and feedback cycles. They can improve the curriculum’s alignment with state standards assessed by the M-STEP. They can provide professional development in research-based strategies for teaching reading and math.
And by partnering with parents, they are more likely to reverse the downward trend and focus on interventions that work.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.
Permission to reprint any comments below is granted only for those comments written by Mackinac Center policy staff.
Get insightful commentary and the most reliable research on Michigan issues sent straight to your inbox.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
Please consider contributing to our work to advance a freer and more prosperous state.