On National Test, 69 Percent of Detroit Children Score Below Basic on Fourth Grade Math; 77 Percent Below Basic on Eighth Grade Math
Steven Wasko and Jennifer Mrozowski, Detroit Public Schools, December 8, 2009
According to results being released today, Detroit schoolchildren ranked the lowest in the nation of participants on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math test.
In terms of performance levels in the fourth grade in Detroit on the math test, 69 percent of students scored at a below basic level. In terms of performance levels in the eighth grade in Detroit, 77 percent were below basic.
“This is a complete indictment of the adult leadership in this district,” said Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools. “We want people to have not just a sense of urgency after seeing these scores, but a sense of outrage over these scores. Failure of this magnitude is not the fault of children, individually or collectively. It cannot be attributed to parental shortcomings, real or imagined. It is directly the result of the failure to lead, failure to manage, failure to establish rigorous academic and strong professional standards.”
“But we also do not want this to paralyze us,” Bobb said. “On the contrary, knowing where our children are academically provides us the opportunity to strategically develop and tailor our academic program to the specific needs of Detroit children.”
The NAEP test is given nationally every two years in reading and math and offers results and a comparison for the performance of students across the nation and for the states. Every state is required under “No Child Left Behind” to participate. However, individual school districts are not required to participate. Detroit has been participating in NAEP, but this is the first time the district’s individual results can be reported.
“These results are unconscionable,” said Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chief Academic Auditor for DPS. “And we will not let the children of Detroit continue to suffer from the lack of leadership and rigorous curriculum that got them to this point. We are planning a complete remake of our academic program so our standards are aligned with the national standards on the NAEP test. This will ensure Detroit’s children can compete against not just Michigan’s students, but compete with students across the nation.”
Detroit was one of a special group of urban districts tested as part of the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Detroit participated in the TUDA at the suggestion of national experts and DPS school officials who were anxious to have a benchmark of comparison for Detroit against other cities nationally and to gauge the rigor of Detroit’s academic program.
In the year 2000, the Council of the Great City Schools approached the National Assessment Governing Board and proposed allowing the nation’s largest city school systems to be over-sampled in order to get city-specific results. Up to that time, NAGB was not allowed to report results below the state level and city samples were too small to report.
The first testing was done in reading in 2002 in six cities as part of the Trial Urban District Assessment or TUDA, but Detroit was not one of them. Math was added in 2003. By 2005, 11 cities were participating and science was added.
In 2009, seven more cities were added, including Detroit for the first time, to make the total number of cities participating 18. The 2009 testing was completed in late January of this year through the first week in March.
“The truth here is that no jurisdiction of any kind in the history of NAEP has ever registered such low numbers,” said Michael Casserly, Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “They are just above what one would expect by chance alone–as if the kids simply guessed at the answers. These numbers–to our mind–are shocking, appalling, and outrageous and should not be allowed to stand.”
Casserly said only a complete overhaul of the DPS school system and how it teaches the city’s children should be permitted at this point because the results signal a complete failure of the adults who have run the schools.
“We encourage–in the strongest possible terms–that this city devote the same sense of urgency, immediacy and centrality to raising student achievement as it is successfully devoting to revamping the school district’s finances and operations,” Casserly said. “It will matter little if the district balances the books but the kids cannot read and do math.”
Students were assessed in grades 4 and 8 only.
The average scale score for the nation’s 4th graders in math in 2009 was 239 on the 0-500 scale. The average scale score for Michigan’s 4th graders was 236–just below the national average. The average scale score for the nation’s large central cities was 231 in 2009–with the highest city (Charlotte) scoring at 245.
Detroit’s 4th graders scored at 200–the lowest of all 18 participating cities. The next lowest scoring city (Fresno) was 19 points higher than Detroit.
In terms of performance levels in the 4th grade, nationally, some 6 percent of 4th graders scored at the advanced level, 33% were proficient, 43% were basic, and 19% were below basic. In Michigan, 5% were advanced, 30% were proficient, 43% were basic, and 22% were below basic. Among the large central cities, 5% were advanced, 24% were proficient, 43% were basic, and 28% were below basic.
In Detroit, there were no measurable students at the advanced level, 3% were proficient, 28% were basic, and 69% were below basic.
On a typical problem involving a student having to subtract a two-digit number from a three-digit number–say 301 minus 75–67% of the nation’s 4th graders will get the right answer as will 63% of urban students generally. Only 33% of Detroit’s 4th graders get the right answer.
In all, Detroit 4th graders scored at the 9th percentile nationally.
The average scale score for the nation’s 8th graders in math in 2009 was 282–a number that is not comparable to the 4th grade number even though they are both on a 0-500 scale. The average scale score for Michigan’s 8th graders was 278.The average scale score for the nation’s large central cities was 271 in 2009–with the highest city (Austin) scoring at 287.
Detroit’s 8th graders scored at 238–the lowest of all 18 participating cities.
In terms of performance levels in the 8th grade, nationally, some 7% of 8th graders scored at the advanced level, 25% were proficient, 39% were basic, and 29% were below basic. In Michigan, 7% were advanced, 24% were proficient, 37% were basic, and 32% were below basic. Among the large central cities, 5% were advanced, 18% were proficient, 36% were basic, and 40% were below basic.
In Detroit, there were no measurable students at the advanced level, 4% were proficient, 18% were basic, and 77% were below basic.
On a typical problem asking students to calculate the probability of picking a particular-colored pencil out of a basket of pencils in three colors, 77% of 8th graders nationally get the right answer as did 67% of urban 8th graders. Only 34% of Detroit’s 8th graders got the right answer.
Detroit’s 8th graders scored at the 12th percentile nationally.
The sample included about 900 of Detroit’s approximately 6,000 4th graders and about 1,000 of the district’s 6,000 8th graders. The sample was done on a random basis by a federal contractor and not by the school system. The sample included some of the district’s highest performing elementary schools. The test consisted of about 50 items on a test lasting about an hour.
The results of the reading and science assessments are forthcoming.