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Escuela Avancemos will move to a new building.

Escuela Avancemos will move to a new building.

These Detroit schools are the city’s most improved

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:

RankSchoolPass rate, 2018 M-STEP
1Detroit Edison Public School Academy60%
2Keystone Academy58%
3Bates Academy57%
4Chrysler Elementary School46%
5Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies44%
6The James and Grace Lee Boggs School42%
7New Paradigm College Prep41%
8Metro Charter Academy40%
9Detroit Merit Charter Academy40%
10University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary36%


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

RankSchoolPass rate, 2018 M-STEP
1Detroit Edison Public School Academy39%
2Chrysler Elementary School38%
3Bates Academy36%
4Martin Luther King, Jr Education Center Academy33%
5University Preparatory Science and Math – Elementary31%
6Charles Wright Academy28%
7Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies28%
8University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – Elementary26%
9Bridge Academy West24%
10University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) Middle School24%

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.

1Renaissance High School507
2Detroit Community Schools – High School493.8
3Cass Technical High School493.4
4Universal Academy459.4
5Henry Ford Academy458
6Cesar Chavez High School450.3
7Chandler Park Academy – High School438.8
8Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School434.3
9Communication and Media Arts HS431.9
10University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – High School420.1

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.

SchoolContent Area201620172018Change since 2016 (% pts.)
Warrendale Charter AcademyEnglish Language Arts14.9%23.7%31%16.1
Escuela AvancemosEnglish Language Arts6.5%19.7%21.5%15
University Yes AcademyEnglish Language Arts9.1%24.6%23.7%14.6
Academy of The AmericasEnglish Language Arts5.5%14.1%17.6%12.1
Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural StudiesEnglish Language Arts33.1%32.8%44.3%11.2
Lincoln-King AcademyMathematics7.6%17.5%18%10.4
Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High SchoolEnglish Language Arts49.5%58.2%59.7%10.2
King High SchoolEnglish Language Arts17%19.1%27.1%10.1
Warrendale Charter AcademyMathematics9.5%14%19.3%9.8
Bennett Elementary SchoolEnglish Language Arts10.9%14.4%20.1%9.2
Detroit Innovation AcademyEnglish Language Arts7.6%15.9%16.8%9.2
Legacy Charter AcademyMathematics13.9%11.7%22.6%8.7
University Preparatory Science and Math – ElementaryMathematics23.3%31.9%31.9%8.6
Charles Wright AcademyEnglish Language Arts21.2%24.8%29.6%8.4
Chrysler Elementary SchoolEnglish Language Arts37.6%39%45.8%8.2
Bennett Elementary SchoolMathematics6.9%7.9%14.7%7.8
Chandler Park Academy – ElementaryMathematics8.6%10.8%15.9%7.3
Clemente, Roberto AcademyEnglish Language Arts17.4%21.1%24.6%7.2
Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural StudiesMathematics21.6%20%28.8%7.2
Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center AcademyMathematics26.5%47.5%33.6%7.1