Press Release

State must not backslide on rigorous standards for our students

ROYAL OAK, MICH. (June 28, 2012) – Michigan has among the worst student achievement gaps in the nation and, as state high school test results released today show, these gaps are growing wider.

Results from the Michigan Merit Exam — the test taken this spring by Michigan 11th graders — show that African-American and low-income students are falling even further behind the state’s white students.  While white achievement has risen slightly over five years, scores for black, Latino and poor high school students remain grim.

The gaps evident in the MME results echo the extraordinary achievement gaps found among Michigan elementary and middle-school students. Results from the 2011 national NAEP examination show that — unlike a majority of states — Michigan did not narrow a single achievement gap between 2003 and 2011 in 4th and 8th-grade reading or math.

Today’s results reinforce the need for Michigan to maintain its rigorous high school standards, and invest more in helping teachers improve their practice through a statewide educator evaluation system that focuses on professional development and helpful feedback.

This fall, Michigan lawmakers are expected to consider the passage of this new statewide evaluation system, as well as a number of bills that would water down the Michigan Merit Curriculum’s rigor.

“This is no time to backslide on rigor, which research shows is an important predictor of job and college success,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, Michigan’s source for reliable, data-driven information on closing our state’s achievement gaps. “With Michigan’s upgrade to tougher Common Core standards in the coming years, we especially need bold strategies to help low-performing schools teach all students at high levels.”

The Education Trust-Midwest agrees with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, who said today:  “We have to make sure we keep motivating all students with a challenging curriculum, and not give in to thinking that some kids just can’t do it. They can and they are.”

Flanagan also applauded the fourth consecutive year of overall gains by Michigan high school juniors on the ACT college-entrance exam. But those gains masked a deep and ever-widening gulf between African-American and white students, and between low-income and more affluent Michigan students.

[The Education Trust-Midwest calculates achievement gaps by comparing proficiency rates between individual groups (i.e., African American/White, Latino/White, low income/higher income, etc.) The Michigan Department of Education appears to calculate gaps by comparing each group to the overall state average, which yields a smaller gap in most cases.]

Among key findings from today’s 2012 MME results:

•    Over the past five years, MME results show that the black-white achievement gap has grown in every subject (math, reading, science, writing) but social studies. Black 2012 proficiency rates are a shocking 35 percent lower than whites in reading, writing and social studies; gaps similar to those found in the NAEP.

•    Even some MME gains are hardly worth celebrating. In 2008, for instance, 3 percent of African American high school juniors in Michigan scored proficient in math. This year, 6 percent score proficient. Math proficiency rates for low-income students rose from 8 to 13 percent over this period.

•    Moreover, the gap between poor and more affluent Michigan high school students has grown in every subject but reading since 2008, according to MME data.

•    Only 1-in-4 Michigan students are proficient in the MME in 11th-grade science. Among blacks, the rate is 4 percent. For Latino and low-income students, the rates are 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

“We have a lot to learn from other states where students’ growth is far outpacing ours here in Michigan, including among minority and low-income students,” Arellano said. “And we must for our children’s sake.”

The Education Trust-Midwest is Michigan’s only statewide nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization focused on what is best for Michigan students. Our mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African-American, Latino and American Indian students in Michigan, and to provide honest, reliable information to our state’s families and policymakers.