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Most Detroit Public Schools’ fourth- and eighth-graders were unable to score at a basic math level on a national test this year — marking the lowest performance in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, local and national officials announced.

Taken by about 1,900 fourth- and eighth-graders, Detroit’s fourth-graders scored 200 against the national average 239 on a scale of 500. Just 18 urban districts participated in the NAEP.

The hour-long NAEP test is scored in two ways. In the first, average results are scored on a scale of 1 to 500. In the second set of scoring criteria, test-takers are ranked from “below basic” to “advanced.” About 69 % of the fourth-grade students scored “below basic.” In eighth grade, 77% were below basic.

The scoring gap widened in eighth grade. Detroit students scored 238 against the national average of 282.

Reading and science results will be released in spring.

The results are perhaps the most damning indictment to date of a district already pummeled by reports of poor graduation rates, labor disputes, financial collapse, and even gunfire in the hallways.

While the test scores hit a historic low in the nation, the test also indicates the movement toward reform. More than a year ago, DPS voluntarily decided to take part in the NAEP in order to see how its progress compared to other districts nationally. Reform efforts underway will include an emphasis on reading, preschool and new technology in

 classrooms districtwide.

“Only a complete overhaul of the school system and how students are taught should be permitted at this point because the results signal a complete failure and breakdown of the grownups who have run this school system,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of urban schools that asked DPS to participate in the test.

In a meeting with Detroit Free Press staff last week, Casserly presented the results with a bleak prediction for all of Detroit: Unless the district boosts its expectations, he said, “this city has no viable future.”

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