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These Detroit schools are the city’s most improved

Escuela Avancemos will move to a new building.
Escuela Avancemos will move to a new building.
Koby Levin

Sean Townsin has a one-word explanation for why his small charter school was among the most improved in the Detroit this year in math. Hint: it’s good news for the city school district.


He meant Eureka Math, a pre-K-12 curriculum that lays out a step-by-step pathway for learning mathematical concepts from counting to calculus. The Detroit Public Schools Community District adopted Eureka Math as part of a broad curriculum overhaul that goes into effect this year.

“We adopted that two years ago,” said Townsin, principal at Escuela Avancemos, a charter school with roughly 300 students, almost all of whom speak English as a second language. “That has been one of the major reasons for our growth in mathematics.”

The tiny Southwest Detroit charter school has boosted its pass rate on the state mathematics test by more than 10 percentage points over the last four years. In 2015, fewer than 5 percent of its students passed the test, landing the school on a state watchlist. But this year, 16 percent passed, and the school is no longer facing extra scrutiny for its low scores.

That number is still concerningly low — it is well under half the statewide average — but it’s good news for Escuela Avancemos and for the city’s main district, which hopes that adopting the curriculum will help boost scores.

The improvement is one of the sharpest in the city. Although test scores released last week held concerning news for parents and policymakers in Detroit, they gave more than a few principals cause for celebration.

Which principals? The answer wasn’t easily predictable, especially if you compared schools with themselves over time, rather than with other schools. While few observers were surprised that selective schools like Detroit’s Renaissance High School and Cass Technical High School boasted some of the city’s highest pass rates on the SAT math, a college entrance exam taken by all 11th-graders in the state, their SAT math scores have actually fallen by more than 2 percentage points. Conversely, many of the schools that showed the most improvement over the last three years aren’t household names in Detroit.

Nonetheless, they may offer lessons to policymakers and school leaders in Detroit as they work to improve schools in a city that has struggled to educate its children.

Consider Warrendale Charter Academy, an elementary school that is part of the for-profit National Heritage Academies and one of Detroit’s oldest charter schools. Since 2016, it has more than doubled its pass rate on the M-STEP English test, a statewide exam taken by students in grades 3 to 8, bringing its pass rate from 14.9 percent to 31 percent.

Or Academy of the Americas Elementary-Middle school, a dual-language school in Detroit’s main district, which saw its English pass rates rise from 6.5 percent to 21.5 percent in three years.

Here are the top 10 Detroit elementary school by pass rate in English Language Arts:

Rank School Pass rate, 2018 M-STEP
1 Detroit Edison Public School Academy 60%
2 Keystone Academy 58%
3 Bates Academy 57%
4 Chrysler Elementary School 46%
5 Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies 44%
6 The James and Grace Lee Boggs School 42%
7 New Paradigm College Prep 41%
8 Metro Charter Academy 40%
9 Detroit Merit Charter Academy 40%
10 University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary 36%

And the top 10 elementary schools, ranked by their pass rate on the statewide math exam.

Rank School Pass rate, 2018 M-STEP
1 Detroit Edison Public School Academy 39%
2 Chrysler Elementary School 38%
3 Bates Academy 36%
4 Martin Luther King, Jr Education Center Academy 33%
5 University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary 31%
6 Charles Wright Academy 28%
7 Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies 28%
8 University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – Elementary 26%
9 Bridge Academy West 24%
10 University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) Middle School 24%

Across Detroit, the percentage of students who pass the annual M-STEP and SAT exams remained stuck far below the state average, a sign that public school students in the city are less likely to be well-prepared for college and a career than their peers elsewhere in Michigan. The city’s roughly 200 public schools, both traditional and charter, face challenges that are unique in the state. More than half of Detroit children live in poverty, and the school system has had to contend with unrelenting instability for decades.

Pockets of high test scores remain. Cass, Renaissance, and the Detroit Edison Public School Academy High School, a charter school, all beat the state average SAT pass rate in math this year.

District leaders and charter advocates found ways to put a positive spin on the results of state tests given last spring. On the first day of school, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti visited district schools that saw their pass rates rise.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a pro-charter group, pointed out that of open-enrollment high schools in Detroit (i.e., excluding Renaissance and Cass), the 10 Detroit high schools with the highest SAT scores were all charter schools.

Here are the top 10 Detroit high schools, listed by their average SAT score.

1 Renaissance High School 507
2 Detroit Community Schools – High School 493.8
3 Cass Technical High School 493.4
4 Universal Academy 459.4
5 Henry Ford Academy 458
6 Cesar Chavez High School 450.3
7 Chandler Park Academy – High School 438.8
8 Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School 434.3
9 Communication and Media Arts HS 431.9
10 University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – High School 420.1

Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy, a longstanding K-8 charter school, was among the top schools in Detroit with its 33.6 percent pass rate on M-STEP math, on par with state averages.

Also in that group was Bates Academy, a selective K-8 school in the city’s main district, where 36.4 percent of students passed M-STEP math.

Scroll down for a list of Detroit schools ranked by their percentage point improvement since 2016.

Note that to protect students’ privacy, the state withholds data from schools where only a few tests were taken or where less than 10 percent of students passed the test, making it impossible to calculate the school’s growth.

School Content Area 2016 2017 2018 Change since 2016 (% pts.)
Warrendale Charter Academy English Language Arts 14.9% 23.7% 31% 16.1
Escuela Avancemos English Language Arts 6.5% 19.7% 21.5% 15
University Yes Academy English Language Arts 9.1% 24.6% 23.7% 14.6
Academy of The Americas English Language Arts 5.5% 14.1% 17.6% 12.1
Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies English Language Arts 33.1% 32.8% 44.3% 11.2
Lincoln-King Academy Mathematics 7.6% 17.5% 18% 10.4
Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School English Language Arts 49.5% 58.2% 59.7% 10.2
King High School English Language Arts 17% 19.1% 27.1% 10.1
Warrendale Charter Academy Mathematics 9.5% 14% 19.3% 9.8
Bennett Elementary School English Language Arts 10.9% 14.4% 20.1% 9.2
Detroit Innovation Academy English Language Arts 7.6% 15.9% 16.8% 9.2
Legacy Charter Academy Mathematics 13.9% 11.7% 22.6% 8.7
University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary Mathematics 23.3% 31.9% 31.9% 8.6
Charles Wright Academy English Language Arts 21.2% 24.8% 29.6% 8.4
Chrysler Elementary School English Language Arts 37.6% 39% 45.8% 8.2
Bennett Elementary School Mathematics 6.9% 7.9% 14.7% 7.8
Chandler Park Academy – Elementary Mathematics 8.6% 10.8% 15.9% 7.3
Clemente, Roberto Academy English Language Arts 17.4% 21.1% 24.6% 7.2
Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies Mathematics 21.6% 20% 28.8% 7.2
Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy Mathematics 26.5% 47.5% 33.6% 7.1

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