Detroit’s public schools post worst scores on record in national assessment: Is anyone surprised?
“There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers”
Test results are barely above what one would expect simply by chance, as if the kids simply guessed at the answers.
“Only a complete overhaul of this school system and how these students are taught ought to be permitted at this point because the results, to our minds, represent a complete breakdown and failure of the grownups who have been running the schools in this city.”
Also notice how anemic and intellectually bankrupt the proposed solution of “academic overhaul” is.
The Detroit Public Schools posted the worst scores on record in the most recent test of students in large central U.S. cities.
The scores came on the Trial Urban District Assessment, a national test developed by the Governing Board, the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education and the Council of the Great City Schools.
The test for urban districts is part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test given to school districts nationwide.
“There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council on Great City Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of urban school districts.
“They are barely above what one would expect simply by chance, as if the kids simply guessed at the answers,” he said.
DPS fourth-graders scored in the 9th percentile and eight-graders were in the 12th percentile when compared with students in 17 other large, central U.S. cities.
Detroit’s fourth graders received an overall score of 200 on a scale of 0-500, putting the city dead last among the other 17 large central U.S. cities grouped together in the NAEP test.
The national average of districts of all kinds was 239.
Of the roughly 1,000 fourth-grade students from a random sampling of schools in the DPS, 69 percent scored at levels below partial mastery of the fundamentals needed for grade-level proficiency, 28 percent scored at the basic level, three percent scored at the proficient level while no students scored at the advanced level.
In the eighth-grade testing group, a full 77 percent of the 1,000 students tested fell into the below-basic category, while 18 percent performed at the basic level, 4 percent scored at the proficient level and, again, zero scored at the advanced level. (For more details, see box at right.)
“Only a complete overhaul of this school system and how these students are taught ought to be permitted at this point because the results, to our minds, represent a complete breakdown and failure of the grownups who have been running the schools in this city,” Casserly said.
This is the first year the test has been given to DPS students. Scores are aggregated and not broken out by student.
“What (this test) is telling us, more than anything else, is that, frankly, this city has no viable future if this is allowed to stand,” Casserly said.
A failure in leadership
“It’s been clear that the district has had a financial and operational emergency but these numbers underscore the fact that the district has an academic emergency,” Casserly said.
DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said last week that the test results were proof of failed DPS leadership.
“From where I stand there’s a lot of blame to go around, but with respect to DPS specifically, it’s a failure of leadership,” he said.
Bobb noted that the Detroit Board of Education had three key documents describing academic and financial shortcomings prior to his appointment by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan in March.
The district had the internal audit outlining its financial woes, an educational report written by the governor’s transition team and a report from Casserly’s Council of Great City Schools, which were ignored or derided by school board members.
“Largely, those reports went unnoticed or were given some tacit response,” with no or little action taken to address the district’s shortcomings, Bobb said.
Casserly said a community-wide conversation is needed about how expectations for Detroit’s children have disintegrated.
“You can’t have results like this unless a community thinks rather poorly and expects not very much of its children, and itself in some ways,” he said.
“It warrants some soul searching about how this happened in the first place, not as a finger-pointing exercise, but as a discussion about the community’s expectations of itself.”
Academic overhaul is underway
Bobb says his academic team is working on implementing an overhauled academic plan, based on NAEP standards.
“It seems to me that whatever we do, we’re now aligning our curriculum to the NAEP standards,” Bobb said.
But both Bobb and Casserly acknowledge it will take more than the DPS to fix the problem.
“There’s obviously lots of finger-pointing that could be done, but to my mind, everybody throughout the community bears some culpability in this situation,” Casserly said. “It’s really going to require a community-wide effort that is much more intense and serious than anything this community has seen before, and it’s got to be sustained for a long period of time.”
That includes the business community, which can provide expertise and involvement, in addition to money, Bobb said.
The focus needs to be on educating children, Bobb said, and not on the usual debates, such as the merits of charter schools versus public schools, that take the focus off the students.
The reading and science portions of the test are slated to be released next year.
Bobb and Casserly acknowledged that it would be easy to become paralyzed by the test results. But instead, they said the results should be a call to action.
“As heartbreaking and discouraging as these scores are, I would use these results not as a paralyzing moment…but as a galvanizing moment in the community’s history to compel it pull together in a way that it’s never done before,” Casserly said.
“It’s going to take more than a school system to address this.”