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Michigan school M-STEP results remain down since pandemic, but some gains

Michigan students in grades 3 through 7 showed slight gains in math last year compared to the year before. (Chalkbeat file photo)
  • Michigan’s spring 2023 state exam results remain lower than results in the last full year before the pandemic  
  • But students in grades 3 through 7 did show year-to-year gains in math
  • See how students in your area performed on the M-STEP

Michigan standardized test results for grades 3 through 7 this past spring remained below pre-pandemic levels in math and English language arts, but there were also some year-to-year gains.    

Results on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress test, known as the M-STEP, were released Thursday. The results underscore continuing challenges that reverberate beyond Michigan, as U.S. schools attempt to steer students back on track after years of disruption tied to COVID.

The M-STEP is an important marker of academic progress, impacting everything from the amount of aid districts receive for tutoring, to teacher evaluations and, potentially, which low-performing districts are targeted for state intervention.    

See M-STEP results in your school district

Michigan standardized test results for grades 3 through 7 last year remained below pre-pandemic levels in math and English language arts, but there were some year-to-year gains. See how your district fared:


State and district leaders will examine the results closely as they make decisions about how to most effectively distribute what remains of the $190 billion in federal COVID relief funds before that money runs out this year, including $6 billion sent to Michigan. 


Schools were expected to use at least 20 percent of their largest round of funding to address learning loss. Some schools did so by investing in district tutoring programs.

“If these scores show stalling, then we really essentially have between now and the end of this school year to figure it out for kids, otherwise their lives will be permanently impacted,” said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab and research professor at Georgetown University. “It’s sort of now or never.”

Key takeaways from the results released Thursday: 

  • Of the 20 assessments given to students across grades, results in 15 areas improved in 2023 from spring 2022 testing. Results fell in four others and one remained the same.
  • Michigan students in grades 3 through 7 showed slight improvement in math during the 2022-23 school year from the previous year.
  • But students still have far to go to reach pre-pandemic levels. The drop in the proficiency compared to the 2018-19 school year was widespread. That was true for low-income students and for students from more affluent families. 
  • In almost every grade and in both English language arts and mathematics, proficiency rates fell between the 2018-19 school year and 2022-23, with the gap between the poor and non-poor — though large — remaining stable.
  • In third grade, 27.6 percent of students from low-income families were proficient in English language arts in 2022-23, a drop of 3.7 percentage points from 2018-19. Among the non-poor, 59.2 percent were proficient, a drop of 3.6 percentage points.
  • Drops were steeper in sixth and seventh grades for students at all income levels in English language arts and math. For instance, 15.7 percent of low-income sixth graders were proficient in math in 2022-23, down 4.4 percentage points. More affluent sixth graders saw a bigger percentage drop, from 52.1 percent in 2018-19 to 46.8 percent this year, a 5.3 percentage point decline.



The M-STEP is given each spring to students in grades 3 through 7 in English language arts and math. Fifth grade students also take the science and social studies M-STEP. (Eighth graders take the PSAT 8/9 test for English language arts and math and 11th graders take the SAT for English language arts and math.) 

In less tumultuous times, schools would be able to compare M-STEP results year by year to measure student progress. But the pandemic upended that rhythm — with the annual test being canceled in 2020 as COVID-19 ended the school year early. Disruptions continued through 2020-2021, when the test was optional, resulting in fewer than 75 percent of Michigan students taking the exam.

That has left educators to compare this year’s results with results dating back to 2018-2019, the last year of full testing before the pandemic, to gauge learning loss.   

Biggest gaps

  • Just 36.9 percent of Michigan 7th graders were deemed proficient in English language arts this year, compared to 42.7 percent during the 2018-19 school year, a 5.8 percentage-point higher.
  • Among sixth graders, 29.6 percent were proficient in math this year, compared to 35.1 percent in 2018-19.
  • Some populations of at-risk students showed greater learning loss than the overall students. In Detroit public schools, for example, English language learners dropped from an 18 percent pass rate in English language arts during the 2018-19 school year to 14 percent in the 2022-23 school year. In math, the same group dropped from a 16 percent pass rate to 11 percent.

Michigan 3rd graders, who were in kindergarten when the pandemic hit, took state standardized testing for the first time this spring. 

“This past year’s third graders were perhaps the most adversely affected of any age cohort as they had pandemic-influenced school years during grades kindergarten through second grade, a challenge that was particularly noticeable in reading,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement. “Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade are pivotal in early literacy efforts, which may help explain the slight decline in the third grade ELA proficiency rate.”

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the third grade reading scores “reflect the unfinished learning during the COVID and post-COVID years.” 

She highlighted several state investments in the new state school budget including tutoring expansion, investments in early literacy, expansion of pre-K programming and boosted funding for special education students and at-risk students. But she also said she wants her committee to take a closer look at what research says about reading instruction. 

“In terms of reading instruction, I would like to see education professionals take a closer look at word recognition or phonics versus the whole language comprehension,” she said. 

Ongoing recovery

Nikki Snyder, Republican member of the State Board of Education and a U.S. Senate candidate, said the M-STEP results underscore the importance of getting funds to parents through education savings accounts to help them pay for literacy services for their children. 

“We can't let the slowness of the implementation or the political argument about not having enough money get in the way.” 

“Anything slight right now does not match the huge gaping hole and need that the pandemic created,” Snyder said. 

But the Democratic president of the state board and fellow candidate for U.S. Senate Pamela Pugh, said recovery efforts are paying off.

“Michigan’s students and educators are working hard to emerge from the disruption of the pandemic, and it’s making a difference,” she said. “We need to continue to invest in our schools and educators and provide the supports needed to help our kids continue to grow academically, socially, and personally.”

Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dan Applegate said his district uses M-STEP to assess whether the district curriculum is working. The district is now in its second year of implementing a new elementary English language arts curriculum. 

To address learning loss, Applegate said the district has taken some high-quality teachers out of the classroom to work as academic interventionists and classroom consultants. They lead small group instruction, coordinate academic interventions and help other teachers ensure they are following the curriculum correctly. 

Jasen Witt, superintendent of Redford Union Schools, noted that M-STEP results are only one measure of student achievement and the district also gives students periodic assessments throughout the school year to make more timely interventions. Witt said it is clear the district still has more work to do to improve literacy and math skills across the board.

“Students are making gains...but we still have a long way to go as a district,” he said. “That period of time they lost during the pandemic, we are still working all the time to overcome those gaps.”

Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said the district uses other assessments throughout the year to get real-time feedback and will look to see if M-STEP results align with results from those tests. 

At the national level, policy experts are concerned that academic recovery has stalled and is not on pace to get students back on track to pre-pandemic achievement.

“We’re seeing a lot of different things at once,” said Roza, the Georgetown professor. “Some districts are seeing more progress than others and there really are no uniform patterns.”

Because districts across the country did not receive much guidance on how to use federal COVID relief funding, Roza said there were vast differences in the way school leaders chose to use the money.

“I don’t think there was as much urgency around academic recovery as there could have been, given how far kids were behind,” she said.

In Michigan, M-STEP results have ramifications for students, teachers and school districts. Districts can apply for a new $150 million state program to fund tutoring and other academic support initiatives. Districts will receive funding based on how many students are considered to not be proficient on statewide assessments. 


Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a group focused on school choice, said she has “little faith that (the)  bureaucracy is going to find its way to getting the money direct into the kids’ hands or direct into teachers’ classrooms to make an impact on the kids that are struggling.” 

Jennifer Mrozowski, senior director of The Education Trust-Midwest, an education and advocacy organization, praised the most recent state education budget but said Michigan must invest in “evidence-based interventions” and have a clear system “to monitor if dollars are indeed reaching the classrooms of the students for whom the funding is intended” and if the interventions are speeding up learning. 

Under Michigan law, M-STEP results also play a major role in teacher evaluations. School districts must base 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student growth as determined by testing data. For teachers who teach subjects and grades that are assessed by state standardized testing, at least half of that 40 percent must be based on the state assessment. (Democratic lawmakers are aiming to remove student growth data as a factor in future teacher evaluations.)

Ron Koehler, superintendent at Kent ISD, which services about 20 traditional school districts and 25 charter schools, said one area of focus will be seventh grade English language arts, where his team’s analysis of local students showed 42.8 percent of students are proficient, compared to 46 percent pre-pandemic. He said member districts showed gains in fifth and 8th grade social studies compared to pre-pandemic levels but 11th grade social studies is significantly down from spring 2019.

Koehler said districts also will be working with community groups to emphasize the importance of consistently attending school. 

“Attendance has a direct relationship to student performance in many ways,” he said. 

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