Michigan’s Snyder Receives Third Grade Reading Bill

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder began his campaign to improve third-grade reading performance over a year ago. This week, legislators sent him a bill that would require educators to render more assistance to young readers who were struggling and hold them back if they are too far behind in their skills.

Experts in the field say third-grade reading levels are critical when it comes to long-term academic achievement, writes Jonathan Oosting, reporting for The Detroit News.

The law, which has been approved by the Republican House and Senate, would, for the most part, keep a school from promoting pupils to fourth-grade if their reading performance was a full grade-level below their fellow- students. However, some exemptions could be allowed.

One indemnity would be known as a "smart promotion," and would make it possible for a student to move to fourth grade and be given remedial reading assistance if the young one performed well on the math section of the M-STEP and exhibited proficiency in social studies and science samples of work.

M-STEP is the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, first administered in Michigan Public Schools during the 2014-2015 academic year. Approximately 46% of third-graders scored at the proficient level in English on the 2016 M-STEP, which was down from the former year's level of 50%.

Under the new provision, parents could request a "good cause" exemption for their young one, which a designated person or a superintendent could grant if it seemed to be the choice that was in the best interest of the student. Paul Liabenow of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association disagreed with this portion of the bill.

"Our concern continues to be that our most needy students, our most impoverished students, will not have equal access to a good cause exemption," he said, "but we hope to find ways to level the playing field for all students when we believe they should be promoted to fourth grade."

In the 2017-2018 academic year, districts would be required to choose a screening tool to identify pupils who were struggling with reading in kindergarten through third grade. These children's schools would be expected to develop "individual reading improvement plans" and "intensive reading intervention," along with notifying parents.

The bill does not, however, include direct funding to assist in implementing the new local obligations.

Brian McVicar, reporting for MLive Media Group, quotes House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), who chaired the committee:

"The overarching goal here is that we increase proficiency in reading, I think our numbers right now are something that we all agree are not acceptable."

There are three different ways a student can prove their proficiency in reading. The M-STEP, an alternative but similar assessment, or multiple work samples can show a child's competency on all English language arts standards.

Gov. Snyder commissioned a group in June 2015 to assess third-grade reading scores. The workgroup found that over the past 12 years, Michigan pupils' reading proficiency has unwaveringly declined, while nearly every other state's scores have improved.

It will now be in the hands of individual school districts to decide whether a child should be held back if he is reading below grade level, says Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press. Terry Dangerfield, superintendent of Lincoln Park Public Schools says the bill is not perfect.

"I am disappointed that they removed … the ability for the teacher and principal to appeal for an exemption, because the teacher and principal work very closely with the students and parents to be able to make those determinations on what's best for the child and the family," he said.

The Associated Press reported that in March, the House and Senate passed a version of the bill that agreed to a good cause exemption for kids with disabilities, English language learners, or students who had been held back for two years even though they received intensive reading help.

But when the Senate added exemptions for new students who did not obtain the proper remedial help at their former schools, who showed they were ready to move on in the opinions of the principal and the reading teacher, or when the superintendent believed an exemption was appropriate, the House objected.

Still, lawmakers seem to agree that assessments, screenings, and interventions are crucial. They also are on the same page when it comes to the addition of "literacy coaches" who would model correct instruction and training for educators who teach reading.

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