M-STEP shows no progress for Michigan’s struggling third-grade readers


Michigan hasn’t been able to reduce the share of third-graders who struggle to read. (Bridge file photo)

Statewide early literacy efforts haven’t helped Michigan’s struggling readers.

That’s sobering news for Michigan schools, as well as families with children entering third grade. Beginning this school year, third-graders reading at below second-grade level risk being retained in grade.

Last school year, three of 10 Michigan third-graders were “not proficient” in English language arts, according to results released Thursday from the spring 2019 round of M-STEP, Michigan’s federally-required standardized test given to students in grades 3-8.

That’s notably worse than 2015, the first year Michigan students took the M-STEP, when 24 percent of third-graders were not proficient in English language arts. 

In 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed a third-grade reading law that recommends students be held back if they are more than a year behind in reading. The Legislature delayed implementation of the law until the 2019-20 school year to give the Michigan Department of Education time to figure out how to determine which kids would flunk, and to give schools time to beef up early reading efforts.

Since 2016, the state has spent at least $110 million on early reading programs that school districts had used for efforts ranging from reading specialists to new curriculum to smaller class sizes in early grades. Schools are also required to inform parents when their children are struggling to read, and to provide individual plans for helping them catch up with their classmates.

Those efforts appear to have not helped so far. In 2016, when the third-grade reading law passed, 29 percent of third-graders were not proficient in English language arts; in 2019, 30 percent were not proficient, roughly the same as last year.

Scores on the M-STEP will be used to help determine which students should be recommended to be held back. Those students will be a subset of those deemed not proficient. State officials say about 5 percent of third-grade students would be subject to the retention policy. That’s about 5,000 students statewide. 

By comparison, 777 third-graders were held back in 2017-18.

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Bob Sornson
Thu, 08/29/2019 - 3:44pm

Statewide early literacy efforts haven’t helped Michigan’s struggling readers.
Same one-size-fits-all curriculum that fails to address oral language skills, sensory motor development, self-regulation skills including attention, and fails to allow teachers to significantly individualize instruction. We've stripped so much of the joy of learning out of the process, and yet this article, our legislature, and state department of education leaders somehow hoped a third grade retention stick, along with a tiny bit of money for more reading coaches would turn this around? How is that plan working?
When will we realize that the one-size-fits-all high pressure system we use cannot be tweaked to get significantly better results? It is time to adopt a more effective systems design that allows students to learn essential skills at their own level, giving them the individual time and attention to learn deeply and with joy?

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 10:47am

While the additional literacy coaches may help some students, all too often, the classroom practices of their regular teacher will undo or suppress whatever improvement occurs. The studies have been done, the data is in, and there is a winner in the "Reading Wars". That winner is systematic phonics-based instruction, but relatively few of the classroom teachers we have working today know how to deliver it, because that isn't what they were taught about reading instruction when they were in college.
See https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/phonics-not-whole-word...
And also https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/10/29/why-doesnt-every-teacher-k...

Insanity, as Einstein defined it, is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Michigan has increased the intensity of so-called early literacy instruction, but it hasn't helped. Something about what we have been doing to teach reading during the past 20 years or so has not worked for half to two thirds of the students in our schools. We clearly need to do something different.

Sun, 09/01/2019 - 10:39am

The law didn’t go far enough in making sure reading instruction in Michigan is actually science based. The science is clear: explicit phonics instruction works. But many Michigan districts - including Ann Arbor - use whole-language-based approaches like Fountas and Pinnell and guided reading. We need to kick these ineffective approaches out of the state. See Emily Hanford’s excellent reporting on this topic. Would be great if Bridge covered what curriculum are actually being used in the state as a next step.

Sun, 09/01/2019 - 10:47am

By all means, students should be held back if they don't meet published requirements. That's how it was done when I attended K-12 and it worked just fine. Let us stop coddling our children and the parents that will not take the time to read to them before they even are old enough to attend school. Students do learn at different rates, and that is why they should be held back if they learn slower than their peers.