It has been said that a child learns to read up until third grade, after which he/she reads to learn. The ability to read at an early age is critical for academic success across all subjects in the years to come.
The State of Michigan recently released results from the Fall 2009 MEAP. Table 1 presents a summary of the third grade reading results (the earliest grade tested) for the Detroit Area – Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. The results are tabulated across districts and presented as county totals. The City of Detroit district is pulled out separately from Wayne County, and the remaining Wayne County districts are summarized. In addition, public school districts have been tabulated separately from charter schools.
Table 1 presents results over the last five years so that trends can be readily identified. Among the findings:
- The results were clear – all districts, both public and charter, experienced improvements in the percent of children reading at grade level over the last year. The percent of children not meeting standards dropped from 13.6% to 10.2% across the State of Michigan. Those meeting standards increased from 86.4% to 89.8%.
- Macomb Public Schools, after two years of decreases, experienced an increase in the percentage of children meeting standards from 88.5% to 91.6%. For the first time, less than 1,000 third grade students could not read at grade level.
- Oakland Public Schools’ 2008-09 improvement was extended, and increased. The share of students testing at grade level grew from 91.2% to 93.6%. As was the case with Macomb, this was the first time that less than 1,000 third grade students could not read at grade level.
- Detroit Public School students showed the greatest improvement. By the 2008-09 school year, the percent of Detroit students that were reading at a third grade level had fallen from a high of 75.5% to 71.7%. But in the 2009-10 school year, Detroit students rallied to 79.1 %, representing a 10.3 percent improvement.
- Out-Wayne County Public Schools also showed improvement after two successive years of losses. The Fall 2009 tests showed a grade level reading rate of 90.0 percent. This was up from 86.0% in Fall 2008.
- The percent of tri-county public school students reading at a third-grade level increased from 85.8% to 89.8%.
- Charter schools continued to have significantly lower rates of students meeting reading standards than their public school counterparts (though DPS is still slightly lower than each of the county charter averages).
- Macomb charter schools produced a grade level reading rate of 80.0%, a marked increase from 76.2% in Fall 2008.
- Oakland Charter schools showed similar, though slightly less, improvement than did Macomb. Student grade level reading in Fall 2009 was 79.7%, up from 76.6% in Fall 2008.
- Wayne County charters (charters located in the City of Detroit were not pulled out separately) showed the largest improvement across the tri-county, as the grade level reading rate increased from 76.25 to 81.0 %.
A second trend that the data reveal is the decreasing public school population of 3rd graders, resulting from a combination of out-migration and decreasing births. The number of 3rd graders tested statewide (including both public and charter) decreased by 2,216, or 1.9 percent. Macomb lost 314 3rd grade students (3.2%) between 2008 and 2009 (when public and charter enrollments are combined), while Oakland lost 106 students (0.8%). Both experienced decreases in public enrollment (3.6% and 0.8%, respectively), with very small changes in charter enrollment.
The number of Detroit Public School third graders taking the test has fallen by 2,142, or 23.7 percent, between Fall 2005 and Fall 2008. Much has been written about decreasing enrollment in the district overall. Such large decreases in the early grades provide strong evidence to support the general enrollment forecasts of a district that will drop to about 50,000 by 2015.
Table 1. 3rd Grade Reading MEAP Results
 The numbers also reveal a movement from public to charter schools, as the population of charter school students increased significantly in Wayne, slightly in Oakland, and held steady in Macomb.
 The assumption must be made that the numbers are not affected by an increasing number of parents opting out of having their children tested.
 The City of Detroit is adding children through births, at a rate that has been dropping since 1990. The forecast for attracting families with young children to the City in the near future is not there. As a result, increased enrollment will only come through an increasing market share – attracting a higher percentage of current residents at each grade level.