Benton Harbor schools may be open for now, but test scores are the pits

Benton Harbor schools have a long way to go to turn around dismal test scores. (Bridge file photo)

Struggling financially and academically, Benton Harbor schools got a fresh dose of bad news Thursday, with the release of state test scores showing their students are learning at among the lowest levels in the state.

Less than one in 16 third-graders in Benton Harbor are proficient in reading or math, according to proficiency rates for the 2018-19 school year released by the Michigan Department of Education. That proficiency rate of about 6 percent (a year earlier it was below 5 percent) is less than one-seventh the state average.

Proficiency rates in Benton Harbor are even worse in other test subject areas in grades 4-8 and 11, where less than 5 percent of students were proficient.

Benton Harbor is a low-income school district, and test scores are stubbornly tied to poverty. But even among school districts that serve poor communities, Benton Harbor stands out. Among high-poverty school districts with at least 1,750 students, Benton Harbor has the lowest test scores in the state.

In Detroit, test scores rose –  often significantly so – nearly across the board, with gains in 11 of 12 tests. The percentage of third-graders proficient in math rose by a third, for example, to 16 percent.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed closing Benton Harbor High School because of low academic performance and a district debt that had reached $18 million. Her proposal led to a backlash in Benton Harbor, as the community rallied around the city’s sole high school.

On Aug. 16, the state officials reached a compromise with the school district: take part in a committee of state and local leaders to consider ways to save the school, pay down debt and improve academics.

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Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/29/2019 - 12:25pm

And no one is doing the obvious thing (like shutting down this failed district like the state has done previously with four others)...why?

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 9:06am

The problem with closing Benton Harbor H.S. is those undereducated students would be shuffled to another school district and made someone else's "problem." If the tax payers in Benton Harbor are willing to pay for their inefficient school...let them. The state should give the school an ultimatum. Bring your academics up to par or no state funding. They will sink or swim.

Dale Westrick
Sun, 09/01/2019 - 4:15pm

Graduated but not educated:
I graduated from high school in 1960. At that time jobs were plentiful and I was able to make a living just with my natural ability. The world has changed a lot since then and I would struggle to get a good paying job if I graduated in 2019. My personal feeling is that we all need to help each other be the best citizen we can be. If you are able mentor a young person or anyone that requested it is very important and can improve their chances of being a productive citizen.
Please the next time you have a chance to provide support instead of making a smart remark just do it.
My 4 year grandson is always asking why. Once we asked him why he is always asking why. His answer was because I don’t know them things.
Failure is not an option our countries future depends on it.
Dale Westrick

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 2:42pm

Dale's comment is insightful. BH area students test scores are not necessarily indicative of the ability of the district to teach students effectively. It comes back to the current student's home life and parents being unable to support the kids as many of them are poorly or uneducated. Now, adults with just "life experience" are not enough. A person, kid or adult, who cannot see the value of the materials being taught to a student often dismiss the future impact of learning or not learning a skill.
We need more adult education in Benton Harbor and it may be at the same levels as the students enrolled in the K-12 school system. If an adult counted towards enrollment in economically disadvantaged communities, there could potentially be more support from the State for funding.