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Week in review: What last year’s test scores tell us as a new school year begins

Grace Tatter/Chalkbeat

It’s time, people! The air is getting colder. The nights are getting longer and, starting Tuesday, nearly all schools in Detroit and across the state will be open for business and hopefully focused on making improvements.

Though the 2017 M-STEP and SAT results released this week included some glimmers of good news for schools in Detroit and across the state, it’s hard to feel hopeful when fewer than half of third-graders are proficient in English.

But a new school year means a fresh start. In Detroit’s main district, that start marks the first full school year of the district’s new era under the control of a new school board and superintendent. So while there’s plenty to fret about, there’s lots of reasons to think that maybe this is the year when we start to get it right. Good luck, everyone!

Keeping score

  • Michigan students are slowly making gains in math and social studies but the “disappointing” reading scores are alarming because a new state law will soon require schools to hold back third-graders who can’t make the grade on the state English exam. One critic charged that a “disaster” is looming for the state.
  • M-STEP and SAT results show Michigan schools continue to do a better job educating wealthier white students than low-income students, African-Americans and Latinos.
  • The state superintendent says officials have to do more to help schools before they end up at the bottom of state rankings. He called on lawmakers to create an “early warning system” that would help schools before it’s “too late.”
  • State charter school advocates say charter students posted higher scores this year than their peers in district schools. But an advocacy group notes that’s not too impressive.
  • To see how individual schools scored on the tests, look here. Or visit the state education department website to download extensive data on the scores including those for special education students and other groups.
  • Here’s the high schools with the state’s highest SAT scores — and a database to look up the college enrollment rates at Michigan schools.

Teaching moments

  • The new Detroit teachers contract — which will raise teacher salaries by more than 7% in the next few years — is now official.
  • That could help recruit teachers but the district, which held a hiring fair last night, was this week still trying to fill more than 200 open teaching positions.
  • The recruiting challenges facing the Detroit schools are part of a nation-wide teacher shortage but a group that advocates for teacher quality says the picture across the country is more complex that many people realize.
  • Detroit teachers last year were absent an average of 13 school days last year — a number that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he hopes to reduce by improving working conditions in schools.

Across the state

In Detroit

  • A Detroit career and technical school is getting a $10 million facelift. Much of that money is coming from foundations and private companies — including one whose leaders have a personal connection to the school. The effort won praise from a News columnist who said it’s “exactly what the city needs to put Detroiters to work in the jobs being created by downtown’s revival.”
  • A federal judge won’t need to enforce a $31 million judgment against Detroit Public Schools after the district and its contractor reached a slightly smaller settlement agreement.
  • A former deputy superintendent is suing Detroit’s main district saying his contract was breached when Vitti fired him in June. He was among 50 administrators in the district central office who were let go as part of the new superintendent’s reorganization.
  • The Detroit principal bribery scandal has gone Hollywood.
  • A coalition of community groups aiming to reduce the number of children who are chronically absent from school has created a pledge for Detroit parents, students, educators and community leaders to sign to ensure that every Detroit child is in class on the first day of school.
  • This Detroiter has been handing out school supplies to kids in her neighborhood.
  • The city teachers union is offering these tips to parents as they prepare for the school year while the district is partnering with a community group to collect donated uniforms for kids who need them.
  • A free horse camp teaches life skills to Detroit students.
  • As Detroit parents navigate the confusing mix of school options in the city, one parent advocate offers these tips for making the best choice.
  • An effort to install “little free libraries” in front of every district school in the city is nearly complete.
  • Every reception this Lions wide receiver completes this season will benefit a program that serves kids in Detroit schools and across the state.

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