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.
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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.