LANSING (AP) — Michigan third- and fourth-graders improved slightly on reading and math tests last spring, but those results were among the “few highlights” in otherwise disappointing scores, state officials said Wednesday.

The results dropped in 11 of the 18 subject areas tested in grades 3 through 8 and 11. There also was a decline in SAT scores.

State education leaders emphasized the results in the critically important English language arts, on which the state has put an increased emphasis in early grades because it is a key predictor for student success. Those deemed proficient or above rose to 44.4 percent, from 41.4 percent, in third grade and to 45 percent, from 44.2 percent, in fourth grade.

Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles said in a statement that those students are benefiting from increased spending on early childhood programs and literacy-improvement efforts, which are “beginning to bear fruit. These are the footholds we need in our ambitious efforts to make Michigan a top 10 education state in 10 years.”

Still, she said “more work needs to be done” on English language arts in upper grades, and on math and social studies overall.

The number of fifth- and eighth-graders who were not proficient — the lowest of four rankings for students — increased by 6 percentage points to 32.2 percent and 30 percent respectively. The average SAT score dropped to 1000.1, from 1007.6.

M-STEP testing was done during a seven-week period in the spring. School districts could get preliminary results within a day or two. Ninety-nine percent of schools and students conduct the tests online, up from 80 percent in 2015.

The Education Trust-Midwest, an advocacy group based in Royal Oak, said the results show that early literacy outcomes for black, Latino and low-income students need particular attention, especially as Michigan implements a third-grade reading law starting in the 2019-20 academic year. Under the law, third-graders will not advance unless their state reading score is less than a grade level behind, they show proficiency through an alternative assessment or they demonstrate mastery through work samples.

Parents could seek a “good cause” exemption, and superintendents or their designees also could promote children to fourth grade if it is in their “best interests.”

Education-Trust Midwest analyst Mary Grech said achievement gaps persist despite additional state spending that will total $100 million by the end of the next budget year — with only about half of white third-graders, roughly one-third of Latino third-graders and less than a quarter of black third-graders being deemed proficient in English language arts. The organization also raised concerns that changes to the M-STEP in 2018 make it unclear if the results are comparable to past years or to scores in other states.

© 2018 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. 

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