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Test scores at Detroit charter schools twice as high as city's public schools, but both are bad

kids in classroom
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio
Detroit charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in the city on last year's M-STEP tests, but both groups were far behind average.

Kids in charter schools in Detroit performed twice as well as those in traditional public schools on the M-STEP test. However, both groups still had extremely low scores on the state's yearly standardized assessment.

Only 23.6 percent of charter school students were proficient in English language arts, compared to 10.6 percent in traditional public schools.

In math, it was 12.7 percent versus 6.1 percent.
Dan Quisenberry is head of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter school advocacy group. 

He says the difference between the test scores at charters and traditional public schools is still significant.

"If you're that parent — and there are such parents across the city of Detroit — where those are their only two choices, they will go and say, 'You know what, I'll take 25 percent all day long.' We're not celebrating this to say this is the end result. We're just saying, 'Wow, that's important progress. We need to build on this and keep working at it."

Quisenberry says if parents consistently chose the highest-performing school available to them, it would go a long way to improving average test scores.  But he says there's no one place where parents can find that information, so there are often open slots in the best schools in Detroit.

He also says all schools in Detroit need more state funding because its takes extra resources to teach kids from low-income families.

Quisenberry thinks charter schools are outperforming Detroit's traditional public schools because they are better able to respond to the specific needs of the kids enrolled there.

The Michigan Education Trust, a nonprofit group that tracks school performance, says the charter school test scores aren't all that encouraging. A spokesman said that "while it was true that Detroit charters outperformed DPS, the proficiency rates in both Detroit charters and DPS remain devastatingly low. According to their own numbers, nearly 4 out of 5 charter students are not proficient. This is far from where our students need to be."


Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.