Making early literacy a priority for Michigan

Reading is the gateway to future academic success. A national consensus of research proves that and no other single factor is more critical in predicting future success or failure in education than 3rd-grade reading proficiency.

We know that students in kindergarten through 3rd grade are learning to read, and starting in 4th grade students begin reading to learn. According to the Annie Casey Foundation, students who are not proficient 3rd-grade readers are four times more likely not to graduate from high school than proficient 3rd-grade readers.

Today in Michigan, we’re investing $4 billion per year in K-3 education, yet nearly one-third of 3rd graders in Michigan are not proficient readers. According to recently released data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card, Michigan ranks 40th in the U.S. in 4th-grade reading literacy. In 2012, however, less than 1 percent of 3rd graders in the state were retained; that is, held back for a year.

Early literacy is so important that 35 states currently have policies in statute to improve 3rd grade reading through early assessment and intervention and 15 states require retention of students on the basis of reading proficiency. Michigan is not among these states, however.

In 2000, nearly 30% of Florida 3rd graders couldn’t read but only 3% of students were retained. Its legislature passed a 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee in 2002 and, in the first year, 14% of students were retained and within 5 years illiteracy rates were cut in half for young students.

A number of studies in Florida and New York have found retention policies improve academic performance – especially among minority students – while enhancing students’ sense of school belonging, confidence and school connectedness.

Two important bills have been introduced in Michigan, HB 5111,  sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) and HB 5144,  sponsored by Rep. Thomas Stallworth (D-Detroit). These bills provide a comprehensive approach to improving early literacy in Michigan by focusing on a number of key strategies that have worked for students in grades K-3. These strategies include: screening in first 30 days of the school year; parental notification for students with early literacy delays; intervention, mentoring and tutoring for struggling readers; retention for those still not proficient after 3rd grade (as a last, but necessary, resort); and intensive intervention for retained students.

Additionally, these bills will go into effect for students enrolled in 1st grade in fall 2014, which means no students currently in school are subject to these provisions and no retentions will occur until spring 2017.

The bills also allow students to re-take the state assessment and provide “good cause” exemptions for students who pass an alternative assessment; students who demonstrate proficiency through a portfolio of work and assignments; students with disabilities; and English Language Learners. Under these bills MDE will also research and sponsor pilot programs to increase early literacy.

These bills are currently being debated in the House Education Committee. We urge the legislature to pass these important bills, which will increase early literacy and put more Michigan students on a path for success in school and life.

Gary Naeyaert is executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a nonpartisan advocacy organization supporting quality choices in public education.

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Sherry Bennett
Mon, 12/02/2013 - 9:00pm
I have talked to many parents of young children since I first heard about this bill. While most are very concerned about 3rd graders learning to read, none have felt that retention is the best solution. I'm personally concerned about a once size fits all bill. I'd like to tell you about my nephew. When he was in 3rd grade the school realized that he was severely dyslexic and he couldn't read at all, not just poorly as they previously thought. He received special education services, and his family sought extra tutoring. However, these steps alone didn't help him enough. He finally learned to read at age 13 helped by a love of books that he developed by listening to audio books. At the beginning of high school he was a D average student. Over the next 4 years he found a love of computers and started excelling. He eventually won a national computer competition and a full ride collage scholarship. He is currently an honor student with one year to graduation. If he had repeated 3rd grade the challenges he faced would have been magnified by the failure of "flunking" and the lost of his friends who had moved on. Would he have been able to find the interest that helped him take off? Or would he have left school with out graduating as he turned 19 his senior year? If this bill passes, I hope that there are so many supports for children to overcome their challenges that retention never becomes the reality. Whether these challenges are educational, developmental or economic let's not just make them repeat the grade and hope for a better outcome the second time around.
Stan Miller
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 8:45am
Mr. Naeyaert is wrong to assert that no student would be held back until 2017. HB 5111 makes retention effective for next year's 3rd-graders, in spring 2015. The bill says, "Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, if a pupil enrolled in grade 3 in a school district or public school academy does not achieve a score of at least proficient in reading on the grade 3 state assessment, the board of the school district or board of directors of the public school academy in which the pupil is enrolled shall ensure that the pupil is not enrolled in grade 4 until the pupil achieves a score of at least proficient in reading on the grade 3 state assessment."
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 11:49pm
Stan, there were a number of changes included in the substitute version of HB 5111 that was adopted in the House Education Committee 3 weeks ago, Having the bill's provisions begin with next year's 1st graders (and thereby no potential retentions until Spring 2017) was one of these changes. The fact that the state legislative website only posts 4 versions of any bill (introduced, passed by House, passed by Senate, signed by Governor) is somewhat frustrating, but that doesn't change the fact that substitutes and new versions of bills make it into the process.
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 10:23am
Why would Michigan ever want to consider Florida's K-12 education system as a model ??? I have talked with may families who moved from Florida to West Michigan, who were amazed at the significant improvement in the qualify of education their children are receiving. Those families who live in Florida, who have a choice, send their children to private schools. Also, research clearly demonstrates that retention does not work for the majority of students. We need to get it right, the first time through. That means significant intervention during the first few years of a child's formal education. And that means improvement in K-12 funding from the state. Fact: Michigan is ranked 39th among the 50 states, in total funding per child. We are just above Mississippi and a few other southern states. Dr. Mike Shibler. Supt. Rockford Public Schools.
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 2:58pm
Dr. Shibler, I was looking at this article - and the Census report attached. In 2010, Michigan was spending $10,644 on a per-pupil basis, from all sources, ranking the state 23rd overall. Education spending based on personal income in the state placed Michigan No. 13. I have seen reports that the U.S. Dept. of Ed listed us as 26th overall in 2013. Please let me know your source as I'm trying to understand the discrepancy. I found this report very disturbing. In it, Michigan is ranked third in teacher quality, third in education input, and last (of the states listed) in education output. Michigan is ranked 8th in teacher salaries - - and 3rd in "teacher comfort". If we are 23rd, 26th, or 39th in spending, but 8th in teacher salaries, what programs is money being diverted from? I hope you will take my question seriously. As a superintendent, I figure you have access to information and understanding that I, as a parent in the public schools, do not. Thank you!
Earl Newman
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 11:50am
The hold 'em back crowd never give up. If we are going to improve education for our children we need to pay attention to the findings of research, not continue to prescribe remedies that have regularly failed to improve student achievement.
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 2:10pm
Instead of holding back children who may be able to move on in other areas, we should consider Competency or Mastery Based Learning - The core element of a competency-based approach is that students progress to more advanced work upon demonstration of learning by applying specific skills and content. If a student needs to learn reading at a slower pace but is ahead in math, he would get the education he needs in each instead of repeating an entire grade. Competency-based learning would resolve the issue much sooner than third grade. Competency-based learning means that a struggling student will not become frustrated when the class builds on skills he never learned. It also means that students who move at a quicker pace will have their educational needs met. Competency-based learning has been shown to be effective, particularly for struggling students. However, it is a radical departure from the one-size-fits-all education system we are stuck in and the thought of change may scare some students, teachers, and parents. The benefits are vast though and would make a law like this unnecessary.
Chuck Fellows
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 4:11pm
Thank you for the comments about competency based learning.
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 2:37pm
Rather then spend this time on the merry-go-round of talk about systems, schools, protocols, and failures, why isn't Mr. Naeyaert and the 'educators' interested in the successes? Why aren't they talking to those who have succeeded, asking them why and how they succeeded, and what barriers they had to overcome? Why not talk to the students who have succeeded, and their parents? I even wonder if Mr Naeyaert and the 'educators' even know what success looks like, he/they never seem to described it, maybe it is easier to leave as undefined.
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 11:52pm
Duane - these bills here are modeled after Florida's experience, in which they reduced 3rd grade illiteracy by 50% within 5 years. This is the kind of success we hope to bring to Michigan.
Fri, 12/06/2013 - 2:06pm
Gary, I believe in hope, what I am more interested in a description of what si to be achieved, what does success look like. All we see and hear is promises of hope and nothing we can use to tell if that hope is ever achieved. What is your view of success? Why and how do you believe success is achieved? Is it just because others have claimed success that what they have done will provide the success you are hoping for? Your hope seems to be based on a 'Reading Guarantee' well how do you even know if what you want to see enacted works once it is passed? Do the laws have any mechanism for measuring the effectiveness of the laws, is there any accountablity of the law built into the law? Or are you one of those who bases everyhting on good intentions and hope and when it doesn't work simply let it perpetuate itself? My concern is that all those pushing these laws and claiming good intentions ignore the ones they claim to care about most. What finding do we have from students who have succeed describing why and how they succeeded and waht barriers they had to overcome? What I have learned is that the people being targeted for help, in this case the kids, know more practical things about their situations than the 'experts'. It seems the problem becomes worse as the the 'experts' talk only to other 'experts' and in this case to adults about process and less about the kids. Just as my comment was about talking to the kids and you simply ignore it trying to placate me with 'hope'. This is a common theme around this issue and others involving the politics of positioning. I truly do appreciate your concern with childhood literacy, you may even have personal experience with the problems/barriers created thoughout ones life by poor reading skills. What I have learned is how you investigate a problem or not has more to do with how it is resolved or mitigated than all the good intentions and well thought out plans. Also every solution that does not include a clear statement of purpose (so all have a clear understanding) and a means for accountability (perfromance metrics and methods for change) included in them will fail and probably worse (continute to exists and perpetuate a bad solution). Thank you for you for posting the article, thank you for reading my comments, thank you for commenting. I wish you would could have heard what I was saying.
Jane Zehnder-Merrell
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 2:45pm
First of all, retention is NOT an intervention. It is a punishment that most directly affects the child, especially those most disadvantaged by having spent their earliest years in poverty. It may have the unintended consequence of increasing high school dropout. A 1995 study by researcher Russell Rumberger found that students retained in grades 1-8 were four times more likely to drop out between grades 8-10 than students who were not, regardless of socioeconomic status, school performance, and multiple other factors. Grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout. In Florida, where a child can be retained in grade for two years, fifth grade classes now include some 13-year-olds. While Florida launched mandatory retention, it also provided schools with more than $130 million dollars annually (with extra support directed to districts with more students reading below grade level) for intervention programs. The Michigan bills do not include any extra funding; in fact HB 5144 directs the Michigan Department of Education to seek private and public funding to implement any such interventions. While the latest MEAP reading results show roughly 35,000 third graders are at risk of retention, HB 5144 proposes a pilot program for 400 students. Given the concentrations of disadvantage in the state, the impact would be enormous in those districts already struggling to meet the needs of the increasing number of students who are growing up in poverty. These children also attend the least resourced schools, often with the most inexperienced teachers and the oldest school buildings. The way we ensure more students can read by the end of 3rd grade is to fund all grades to provide the necessary smaller class sizes, proven interventions and professional development for our teachers.
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 3:52pm
HIRE a Mothers and have them teach HOMESCHOOLING ,,,and pay our mothers for teaching there children . I am very proud to tell that my garndchildren are being HOMSSCHOOLED and at there age of 16 enrolled in College and One child is Europa .on the university studieing. SO giv emother HOMESCHOOLING a salary .and this rule making ALL children have to pass to the next grad before the STATE would give that school IS with that rule ALL childre in school WILL PASS EACH YEAR...mmh it doesnot take a genius to figure that OUT..BUT then I must been ...proof >MY GRANDCHILDREN ! merry Christmas to all. sam
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 6:21pm
Why are kids in Michigan not reading to learn until the FOURTH grade? I and most of my generation were taught to read in the FIRST grade. The difference? We were taught using phonics instead of Whole Language -- the disturbing notion that children learn to read the same way they learn to talk. It's great to talk about "literacy" -- but look closely at the methodology involved. Then follow the money. If it's a program being promoted by the education establishment, you can be 100 percent certain that the primary purpose of the program is to inject more of the public's money into the pockets of administrators and the marketers of education materials.
Chuck Jordan
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 8:47pm
The writer has one thing right: Reading is the gateway to future success. However, these bills will not improve reading ability, only increase drop out rates as others have pointed out. Anyone who knows anything about reading and teaching of reading knows this one size fits all quick fix is doomed to failure and will harm kids. Reading tests based on multiple guess questions in Grades 1-3 are not reliable assessments of reading ability. Reading intervention and the competency based approach will work if we are serious about improving reading skills. Holding students back by government fiat will lead to disaster. So called education reformers are making an already struggling education system mostly in high poverty districts even worse.
Dave Peterson
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 9:45pm
The literacy interventions described are important. The notion of retaining students who don't measure up is one only a legislator could make up. The research on retention is causes more harm than good. Pass legislation that includes the interventions...skip the humiliation.
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 7:33am
Parents need to read to their kids and have books at home that are fun to read. Dr. Suess helped me a lot, fun to read with lots of cool pictures. Fun with Dick and Jane (is that even around anymore?) was dull by comparison. I was reading by first grade.
Thu, 12/05/2013 - 8:20am
Reading to your children is great! But we need to look at WHY children are not proficient at reading by 3rd grade. 20% of students have a reading disability called dyslexia per the National Institute of Health. Per their recommendation children with dyslexia need reading instruction specifically geared for dyslexia, not a reading program for the normal reader. Screening for dyslexia needs to be done in kindergarten with remediation. This is not done in our schools. It is a shame to punish students with a disability by retaining them and not remediating them.
Thu, 12/05/2013 - 10:15am
The percentage of children with dyslexia was broken up by the auto correct. It is 20%.
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 9:41am
Response to Joshua Raymond's question regarding the reference to Michigan being ranked 39th in funding per child: National Center for Education Statistics. This is a non-partisan reference site. Their numbers are from 2011. The NEA's numbers are from 2012, and they rank Michigan 41st. Thanks for asking. Mike Shibler.
Chuck Fellows
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 4:21pm
Where is the evidence that all children must transition from learning to read to reading to learn at some specific calendar driven point in time? Retention is punishing a child for the child's inability to meet or exceed an adult expectation based on an arbitrary time line. Move away from pedagogy (leading the child) to andragogy (child leading) and transition away from the eighteenth century Prussian model, chunking of knowledge into subjects and units, broadcast lecture style of teaching to a differentiated learning model which is now enabled by the prudent use of technology (see for an example).
Susan Moriarty
Mon, 12/09/2013 - 12:24pm
I agree so strongly with so many of the comments about retainment being punishment. By the third grade kids are invested in their friendships and identify strongly with their age peers. To hold back a child would certainly been seen as a punishment. I believe it also does damage to a child's self-image and self-esteem. It would be better to evaluate children at 1st grade and hold them back then, particularly if they are less mature in other ways. Both of my children came into reading in the fourth grade, not in the third. They were both enrolled in the Title 1 reading services, were doing well in other subjects, but their brains simply were not mature enough for reading at the same rate as the other children. They were both read to at home from infancy, and they are both currently voracious readers. One is a high school senior taking several AP classes and applying to colleges. My son is currently in Japan with the US Marine Corp, having chosen to enlist in service rather than college for the time being. He is working on his Associates Degree and talking about eventually going for a PhD in Mathematics. Both of them are successful as scholars and have overcome their previous “deficiencies." In my opinion, the state needs to ensure that adequate supports are available for every child that needs them. Their role should be to provide the resources to support maximum achievement, not to dictate who gets held back.
Kerry Ann VerMeulen
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 8:55pm
Why don't kids go to reading classes specific to their level, throughout their entire education? And the same for math, foreign language,etc. We are measuring progress by time spent, which is absurd. Our "grade-levels" are arbitrary, apocryphal, meaningless. Also, how about start making progress by screening kids for dyslexia, right away. Why wait, unless schools don't really want to know?