Only 5% of Detroit 8th graders read at proficient level

A review of NAEP scores for Michigan’s largest district confirms the need for education reform

Only one out of 20 students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District scored at a “proficient” level on the eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. Lawmakers are taking notice but have yet to introduce a bill that effectively addresses the problem.

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, chair of the Senate Education Committee, mentioned Michigan’s performance on the 2022 NAEP test in a recent tweet. The NAEP, or “The Nation’s Report Card,” assesses each state’s reading and math performance at critical time points. A review of Michigan’s progress on standardized tests like the NAEP is an important step in developing effective solutions.

A review of NAEP scores for Michigan and its largest urban district confirm the dire need for education reform.

Just 5% of students met the minimum score needed for Detroit’s 50,000 students to be prepared for higher-level coursework. And the district’s performance was not significantly different than it was in 2019 or 2009. Things have not changed for the better over time.

Detroit also performs poorly when compared with similar urban districts in the United States. The Detroit Public School District scored significantly lower than 25 comparable districts on the eighth grade reading test in 2022. Among those districts that performed better were Baltimore, the District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Even worse, Detroit has consistently scored the lowest among urban districts in every test of reading and math since 2009. (Districts are tested at the fourth an eighth grade level.)

Detroit teachers, administrators, and schools are all richly funded. The district has received more money per student compared to the state and national average since 1994. The district’s revenue in 2021-2022 totaled just under $1 billion. Detroit charter schools consistently receive less funding per student than schools in the Detroit district, and they perform better. More funding does not appear to be the solution.

The education outlook for the state of Michigan is not much better. Forty states performed better than Michigan on the fourth-grade reading test in 2022. Fewer than three out of ten students scored “at or above proficient.” Only three states scored “significantly lower than Michigan.”

And Michigan’s average reading score fell by 6.5 points from 2002-22, compared to the national public’s average score, which fell by only half a point.

Lawmakers have recently introduced bills that reduce school accountability. The repeal of the Third Grade Reading Law removes provisions that help ensure a student’s literacy development before advancing to fourth grade. The repeal of the A-F school grading law eliminates a transparent system for monitoring school progress. But a reduction in school accountability at such a critical time is not the solution to our state’s education crisis.

Instead, targeting the long-term trend of failing schools in Detroit would be a step in the right direction. Rejecting accountability measures does not seem likely to create improvement.

Standardized testing is an essential tool for understanding the dire state of education in Michigan. Lawmakers would do well to apply data from these tests to solutions that target the state’s – and nation’s – most underperforming urban district.

Molly Macek is director of the education policy at the Mackinac Center. Email her at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.