Michigan draws a line on 3rd grade reading

Michigan draws a line on 3rd grade reading

(Mich.) In order to improve literacy rates statewide, students will be held back if they are not at or near reading proficiency by the end of third grade under a bill passed by the Michigan legislature last week.

If signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, schools will be required to use diagnostic tools in early grades to identify struggling readers and provide support.  Among the strategies suggested is the use of reading coaches, small group instruction or improved professional development.

“Our state is currently 41st in the nation in fourth-grade literacy,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, said in a statement. “The ability to read cannot be overstated in its importance, especially in early education and this legislation strengthens the literacy education for every student in the state of Michigan.”

Price introduced an earlier version of this bill in 2013, but the latest attempt was prompted by a report released last year which found reading proficiency had been steadily declining in Michigan over the past 12 years while almost every other state had been improving.

The workgroup responsible for the study–commissioned by Gov. Snyder–said the ability to read proficiently by third grade is crucial because that is when students move from learning how to read to using reading to learn.

This year, only 46 percent of third grade students scored proficient or above in English language arts on the state’s standardized test, the M-STEP.

Under House Bill 4822, children could demonstrate proficiency through scores on the M-STEP or an alternative assessment, or by providing multiple work samples that show competency on all third-grade English language art standards.

If signed, the retention provision in the bill would go into effect in 2019-20. At that point, students who do not reach the proficiency benchmarks can still move on to fourth grade if they acquire a “good-cause” exemption, which would be available for students with disabilities, recent English learners or if a parent or legal guardian submits a signed request.

Lawmakers already approved in the 2015-15 budget an allocation of $17.5 million for additional instructional time; $5.5 million for diagnostic and screening tools as well as computer adaptive tests; and $3.0 million to hire early literacy coaches.

At the same time, the Michigan Department of Education received $900,000 to oversee third grade reading initiatives, and Snyder has recommended an additional $1 million for fiscal year 2016-17.

Opponents of the bill say poor children may be inadvertently targeted for retention because they may not have a parent or guardian around to advocate for an exemption of their behalf. Additionally, there could be significant added costs depending on how many students are held back, according to an analysis of the bill.

In order to implement support systems for children who are not on track to meeting proficiency and increase efforts for those who repeat third grade, local education agencies would likely need additional funding.

Districts will be required to submit an annual retention report to the state’s Educational Performance and Information beginning in 2020 detailing the number of students held back in third grade and those graduated to fourth with a good cause exemption.

Snyder has called for student literacy support and intervention, as well as tools to help school identify children who are behind – both of which are included in HB 4822.