Michigan House OKs third-grade reading, retention bill

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature has approved an early literacy bill that requires that third-graders be held back if they lag in reading, unless they qualify for an exemption.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the legislation that passed Wednesday.

Starting in the 2019-20 school year, third-graders wouldn’t advance unless their state reading score is less than a grade level behind, they show proficiency through an alternative assessment or they demonstrate mastery through work samples. Parents could seek a “good cause” exemption letting kids still be promoted to fourth grade.

The bill, which requires schools to intervene early when students are having reading problems, passed on 60-47 and 25-10 mostly party-line votes in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democrats were largely opposed.

Here’s a breakdown of the legislation:

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RETENTION

Starting in the 2019-20 school year, third-graders wouldn’t advance unless their state reading score is less than a grade level behind, they show proficiency through an alternative assessment or they demonstrate mastery through work samples.

Parents could seek a “good cause” exemption, which would apply to kids with disabilities, students for whom English is second language, those previously held back despite receiving intensive reading help for at least two years and newer students who didn’t receive an appropriate individualized reading intervention in their old district.

Superintendents or their designees also could promote children to fourth grade if it’s in their “best interests.”

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SCREENING/INTERVENTION

School districts and charter schools would have to assess the reading skills of K-3 students at least three times per academic year, including once in the first 30 days of school. Kids with a delay or deficiency would receive an individual reading improvement plan within 30 days, created by their teacher, principal and parent(s).

“Intensive” intervention would continue until the children no longer have a reading deficiency, while “literacy coaches” would model appropriate instruction and training for teachers. Parents would be given a “read at home” plan, and schools would be encouraged to offer summer reading camps.

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WHY THIRD-GRADERS?

It’s the last year students learn to read before transitioning to reading to learn. Advocates of the Republican-sponsored bill say the goal isn’t to keep kids back a grade, noting that mandatory retention is necessary so that students don’t fall further behind.

“Michigan is experiencing a crisis in literacy,” said the sponsor, Rep. Amanda Price of Ottawa County’s Park Township.

Opponents question whether holding back students works and whether the emotional trauma does more harm than good. Democratic Rep. Andy Schor of Lansing, who supported an earlier version of the legislation, said he reversed course because kids who excel at math but struggle in reading might not advance to fourth grade regardless unless they also are proficient in science and social studies.

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STATE TEST

Just 46 percent of Michigan’s 105,000 third-graders were proficient in English language arts on the M-STEP state assessment given in the spring. Twenty-nine percent weren’t proficient while 25 percent were “partially proficient.”

The bill leaves it to the state Department of Education to determine when a reading score indicates that students are more than one grade level behind, meaning it’s unclear how many more students could be retained, especially given that school officials would have flexibility to decide when to hold a student back. Currently, less than 1 percent of students repeat third grade.

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COST

The Republican governor and legislators have set aside about $55 million more for early literacy initiatives in the current and next fiscal year, but it’s not clear what retention would cost the state throughout a held-back student’s time in school.

Online:

House Bill 4822

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