Whitmer legacy: Michigan students' test scores still lagging

The 2022 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress says about 41.6% of third graders tested proficient in English.
Gretchen Whitmer

Two years after Michigan shuttered in-person learning at schools because of COVID-19, state and federal test scores show that students’ learning still hasn’t recovered.

The 2022 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress says about 41.6% of third graders tested proficient in English Language Arts, down from 42.8% in 2021 and 45.1% in 2019.

ELA scores for third grade through eighth grade and 11th grade all dropped between 2021 and 2022.

“Last year was a stronger year for our children, given the courageous work of our students and staff, but we continue to have a lot of room for improvement,” State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice said in a statement. “Supported by an extraordinary fiscal year 2023 budget recently negotiated by Governor Whitmer and the state legislature, this school year will be critical to the growth and achievement of our students.”

The spring 2022 M-STEP assessments showed that scores increased in three of seven grades in mathematics.

The state test scores follow a federal report detailing dismal test scores released Thursday, the most significant decline in decades.

“Average scores for age 9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020,” the report said. “This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first-ever score decline in mathematics. This Highlights report compares performance on the NAEP long-term trend reading and mathematics assessments for age 9 students from the winter of 2020 to results of long-term trend assessments in the winter of 2022.”

A new report from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative says that about 5,650 Michigan students tested poorly enough in reading that they could be required to repeat third grade.

Overall, 5.8% of tested 3rd-grade students scored poorly enough to qualify for retention, up from 4.8% in 2020-21. About 95% of students tested in 2022 compared to 71% last year.

The long-term trend shows flat scores in mathematics and reading for 9-year-olds since the 2012 assessment but that lower-performing students had significant declines.

The report said that in 2020, students who struggled the most – those in the 10th percentile – started losing the reading gains made over the longer term.

"In spite of the great efforts of students, educators and community members, our schools have not yet returned to prepandemic achievement levels, in Michigan or in states across the country," Rice said. "We are still wrestling with profound staffing shortages that existed prior to, and were exacerbated by, the pandemic – shortages that were largely borne of inadequate prepandemic funding."

Michigan schools are receiving nearly $6 billion of one-time Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund aid. As of June 2022, the schools have spent 25% of that money. The spending deadline is in 2024.

Michigan Freedom Fund director Tori Sachs blamed the learning loss on Whitmer’s school closures.

“Whitmer mandated and allowed the longest school closures in the nation to appease radical teachers' unions knowing the devastating impacts it would have on students,” Sachs said in a statement. “When Whitmer got the opportunity to give parents reading scholarships to help kids catch up, she vetoed them at the behest of the unions. It's time to set students free from the selfish teachers' unions and give every family a choice in their education.”