HS students show improvement, but readiness rate drops

(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - The high school students who took the Michigan Merit Exam this spring posted somewhat promising results, showing improvement in nearly every subject, according to data released by the Michigan Department of Education this morning.

But despite that improvement the percentage of students considered college-ready — based on ACT scores that indicate they're ready for college-level work — declined from 18.1% to 17.8%. That college readiness rate is a key measure Gov. Rick Snyder uses to gauge progress in Michigan schools, and the decline this year ends a multi-year trend in which it had been on the rise since first reported by the state in 2008 at 14.8%.

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There were more troublesome results: Nearly 200 schools — 160 traditional public schools and 38 charter schools — didn't have a single student considered college-ready by ACT's standards. And on state-developed MME tests, more than 70% of the students failed in math or science. Just 59% passed in reading. A little more than half (51%) passed writing. And 44% passed in social studies.

More than 100,000 students — mostly juniors — took the Michigan Merit Exam, which includes three components:

- The ACT, a national college admissions exam that tests students in English, math, reading and science. Students can also take an optional writing exam. Results released today show the average composite score, plus the percentage of students who met college-readiness standards. The average ACT composite score inched up from 19.6 to 19.7. The highest possible score is 36. Michigan is one of just a handful of states where the ACT is a required exam for most students. Nationally, the average composite score was 20.9 for the Class of 2013.

- State-developed tests in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Results show the percentage of students who passed each exam. Students improved in all five subjects tested, with the most notable jumps happening in reading, where the percentage passing went from 54% to 59%; and social studies, where the percentage passing rose from 39% to 44%.

- The ACT WorkKeys exam, which tests workplace readiness skills in applied math, reading for information and locating information.

The results are out during a time of uncertainty about the future of testing in Michigan. The MDE had planned to retire the MEAP and the Michigan Merit Exam after this school year and replace them with the Smarter Balanced Exam — a test Michigan and nearly two dozen other states have adopted. But the Legislature, fueled by lawmakers with concerns about Smarter Balanced, added language to the budget for this fiscal year requiring MDE to go back to the MEAP, which assesses elementary and middle school students, next spring. It's unclear whether that will also mean a return to the MME.

Six of the 10 schools with the highest average ACT scores are located in the metro Detroit counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne. That includes the top-scoring school — the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, with an average composite score of 29.2.

A common thread among the top-performing schools on the ACT: Several have adopted the International Baccalaureate program, a highly sought-after, rigorous curriculum that prepares students for entry into colleges worldwide.

Not surprisingly, the same schools had the highest percentages of students deemed college-ready, with the International Academy leading the pack again with 85.9% meeting those standards.

The ACT says a student is college-ready if he or she scores an 18 in English, 22 in math, 22 in reading and 23 in science. Why those scores? That's where the ACT says a student would need to score to have a 50% shot at earning a B or above in college-level courses in English composition, college algebra, social sciences and biology.

The reason Michigan's college-readiness number dropped is because of a one percentage point decline in the percentage of students who hit that 22 score in the subject.


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