Michigan schools revolt: We won’t flunk struggling third-grade readers

third grade

Several Michigan school districts are vowing to work with parents to seek exemptions for third-grade students targeted for retention due to poor reading skills. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Some Michigan school districts are revolting against the state’s third-grade read-or-flunk law, saying they will do everything in their power to prevent  students from repeating third grade because of low reading test scores.


Interviews with officials at districts across the state, some of whom spoke on the record and some who spoke for background, revealed plans to use exemptions in the law across-the-board to avoid retaining third-graders flagged for retention. 

The districts’ opposition is an astonishing public rebuke of a law passed by the Legislature and signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2016. The current 2019-20 school year is the first in which third-graders can be retained if they are more than a year behind in reading ability based on state test results this spring.

Their resistance comes as the current governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, made clear this week she is simpatico with their planned resistance to the law, even launching a drive with several high-profile foundations to arm parents with strategies to help their children avoid repeating third grade.

The Michigan Department of Education estimated 5,000 students (roughly 5 percent of third-graders) will be flagged for retention because of low reading scores on this spring’s M-STEP test. That would represent a sevenfold increase over the number of students retained in third grade in 2018-19.

But as the testing period for M-STEP approaches, conversations with school leaders suggest there may be far fewer students retained than projected. And some districts are not waiting for test results to proclaim that they will not flunk students for low scores.

“This was all the buzz at a state superintendent’s meeting last week,” said David Mustonen, communications director at Dearborn Public Schools, which plans to aggressively use exemptions to advance struggling readers to fourth grade in the fall. “What our superintendent (Glen Maleyko) heard is that most superintendents are doing the same thing.”

Other districts revolting against the law include the state’s largest school district, Detroit Public Schools Community District.

“No third-grader needs to be retained if a parent or teacher does not believe retention is the best strategy for the child’s development under the new law. Period,” Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “No different than how you dealt with retention in the past.”

In Detroit’s public schools, 160 third-graders (4 percent) flunked third grade in 2018-19. Based on test scores, the state projects the number of students flagged for retention in Detroit would jump to more than 800 (20 percent of city third-graders).

In an emailed statement to Bridge, Vitti said he expects the district to use exemptions in the law to shrink that number substantially.

Exemptions built into the 2016 law include: special education students; students who are English language learners; those who have been in the same school for less than two years, and those already retained in a grade.

Most significantly, another exemption allows principals to make the final call on retention, whether or not a parent makes a request, essentially giving districts carte blanche to ignore the flunk part of the read-or-flunk law.

“We are actively planning to use exemptions and especially the exemption that a parent and or a teacher have to agree with the retention recommendation,” wrote Vitti, the Detroit chief. “The third grade read[ing] law places too much emphasis on the state reading test. This is punitive and contradicts what we know as best practice and what we know is best for children.

“We should never use a standardized test to punish students.” Vitti said.

The debate matters because education experts view improving third-grade reading skills as a key to improving Michigan’s schools, which rank in the bottom half in the nation for academic achievement. Michigan ranks 34th in the percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Former Gov. Snyder and current Gov. Whitmer both advocated for increasing the percent of adults with post-high school credentials as a means of boosting Michigan’s economy.

In October 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed the law, which requires students who are more than a grade level behind in reading by the end of third grade to be retained, joining 15 states with similar laws.

Education leaders immediately raised concerns about the retention portion of the law, pointing out that low-income students are more likely to be retained because test scores often correlate to income, and that studies are at best mixed on the long-term benefit of retention.

Flunking 5,000 third-graders would Michigan cost taxpayers about $40 million because of the extra year in the k-12 system, an amount some educators argue could be better spent on early literacy efforts.

The sponsor of the bill, now-former Rep. Amanda Price, a Republican from Ottawa County who chaired the House Education Committee, said she hoped the bill would help low-income children, who often have lower reading scores than their more affluent classmates.

Price told Bridge on Thursday she was “very disappointed” by the schools’ planned end-run around the law.

“I don’t understand why there’s so much discussion about the retention part of the law,” Price said. “Why isn’t there more push to get these kids to read rather than fighting this line in the sand?”

The 2016 law also included funding for early literacy efforts, such as reading intervention specialists to work with struggling children to boost reading levels.

“The intent of the law was, starting in kindergarten, preparing children to read, so that when they reach third grade they wouldn’t need to be retained,” Price said. “Maybe I’m naïve to believe it only takes four years to teach a kid to read, but I think the normal parent thinks by end of third grade their kiddos should be reading.”

Despite at least $110 million spent on early literacy in the past three years, the percent of Michigan third-graders who were deemed “not proficient” in English Language Arts has actually risen.

Dearborn, which has a large, first-generation immigrant population, sent letters to parents of the district’s 1,500 third-graders last week, telling them how they can appeal a retention notification and making clear the district disagrees with the read-or-flunk law.

An estimated 30 Dearborn students (2 percent) were projected to be flagged for repeating third grade. The district will help families fill out forms to apply for exemptions, said Mustonen, the communications director.

“Dearborn Public Schools does not believe retention is an effective way to help students master a subject or to help them succeed at school,” Maleyko wrote in the letter.

Amanda Price

Former legislator Amanda Price is disappointed schools are “fighting this line in the sand” instead of focusing on improving the state’s performance in teaching early literacy (Bridge file photo)

A similar declaration came from an affluent suburban district in Oakland County. 

The Novi Community School District does not plan to retain any third-graders because of the law, said R.J. Webber, assistant superintendent for academic affairs.

“Our approach will be to provide parents with every opportunity to utilize the exemptions in the law for third-grade reading to avoid retention,” Webber said. “The belief we have is that retention is not an effective method to improve learner outcomes and experiences.”

The response is the same at small, low-income Godfrey-Lee Public Schools near Grand Rapids.

“Our plan is not to retain students,” Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston said. 

“We will work with each family of students eligible for retention to discuss their unique situation and what we can do in partnership to grow the learning of the student.”

Kyle Mayer, assistant superintendent at Holland-based Ottawa Intermediate School District, said districts in the western Michigan county are “going to look for every opportunity available to apply the good cause exemptions.”

Mayer predicted after exemptions are used by districts across the state, there will be “significantly less” students retained in third grade than the 5,000 projected by MDE.

When reached for comment Thursday, the state education department declined to criticize or support school districts choosing to circumvent the read-or-flunk law.

State Superintendent Michael Rice opposes the retention portion of the law, saying in his interview for the state’s top education post in 2019 that the law was based on “the false premise that the beatings will continue until reading improves. It’s far too punitive and comes with too few resources.”

In an email response to Bridge Thursday, MDE noted that children flagged for retention but advanced to fourth grade are supposed to receive the same reading support as if they were retained.

“The Read By Grade Three law provides a number of possible exemptions to retention and gives local district superintendents the ultimate decision on whether students are retained in third grade or advanced to fourth grade,” said MDE spokesperson Bill DiSessa. 

“These locally-determined decisions are to be made with input from the parents or guardians and the school building-level educators,” DiSessa said. “We expect that these local decisions will be made by determining what is in the best interest of each student, by local educators who know those students best.”

Beth DeShone, of the school choice advocacy group Great Lakes Education Project, criticized schools that planned to ignore the law. 

“I find it shameful that these adults would look to find ways to circumvent” the law, DeShone said. Students who are struggling readers in third grade typically continue to struggle in school and have higher dropout rates, she noted, adding that flunking children in third grade is better than passing kids along who can’t read.

“If they ignore the law, I’d say they’re breaking the law,” DeShone said.

Schools aren’t so much breaking the law as they are using the loopholes built into the policy when it was created in 2016, counters Randy Davis, superintendent of Marshall Public Schools near Battle Creek.

Projecting from last year’s scores, there are probably eight third-graders in Marshall this year who will fall below the cutoff score and be flagged for retention, Davis said.

“I feel as a superintendent that the interventions are adequate to move them forward,” Davis said. 

“But just because we’re not retaining any more than normal doesn’t mean the law hasn’t had an impact. The big angst people had about the law created a focus on literacy. That was necessary to move the needle for districts.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Fri, 01/31/2020 - 7:26am

The law is basically dead which is good. The parental input aspect will make it so, nobody wants to brand their child as a "failure", it reflects on the child and the parent.

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 9:26pm

Yes it will be much better to wait until they get into high school or college to find out they don’t know how to read at a proficient level.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 8:31am

Well the republicans took all that good books out of the schools and burn them( Germany 1930's) Like Huckleberry Fin so there really no good books fro kids to read!!! Republicans KNOW that educated people will not vote for them!!!

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 9:29pm

Now this is what you call plantation mentality. Republicans didn’t remove the books. Southern democrats did.

Jim L Fenner
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 8:46am

Bridge continues to show it's West Coast DeVoss funded bias against public education. I am sorely disappointed that this on-line Magazine continues to be a mouth piece for the republicans, especially with regard to the DeVoss agenda to destroy public education.

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 9:34pm

Public education starting destroying itself when the socialist unions and teachers decided they were going to indoctrinate our children instead of educating them.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 8:59am

The school districts' widespread resistance to the Read by 3rd Grade is an astonishing admission that most elementary schools either can not or will not do the most important job they have, teaching children to read. There is plenty of research about what works to teach 70-90% of students to read fluently, including teaching most students with dyslexia, but these techniques are widely ignored in classrooms all over the state.

The procedures that are supposed to be followed when a student falls behind their age-mates are also very clear. Testing students for visual, auditory, and reading disabilities should be automatic whenever their learning doesn't progress as expected. Due to misguided civil rights complaints claiming that too many minority children being found eligible for special education services, districts err in the opposite direction and delay testing students who could clearly benefit from more intense or more skillful reading instruction from specialist teachers. More low-income and minority students than those from better-off families have experienced both emotional and environmental trauma, we should expect that they will have a higher incidence of learning difficulties and support them, rather than throw up roadblocks.

Leon Hulett
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 7:57am

Anna, I like your thinking.
Do you know the M-STEP Cut Score for 3d and 4th Grade Advanced Readers? I have not been able to find it yet.


Fri, 01/31/2020 - 9:00am

Our little kids want to learn to read. Help them, don't harm them with punitive actions.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 9:35am

Well, your headline is correct. Michigan public schools are revolting. Anyone who takes the time to ferret out school performance at the Michigan Department of Education website can see it. It takes time because MDE hides it as best they can.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 9:53am

I don't know which teachers they are referring to, but as a teacher myself, I would never pass a student in 3rd grade who could not read. This is ridiculous! TEACH them, don't just pass them on to the next teacher and hope they will do something.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:57pm

The ignorance of your statement is palpable. Reading is only one portion of education. A teacher who would "never pass" a student who excelled in other areas but struggled with reading is incompetent. As a teacher you should be capable of critical thinking, however, based on your blanket statement, it seems you are the one who should have been held back. Critical thinking is just as important as reading.

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 2:47pm

what happened to the Reading is Fundamental Program that targeted K-3 learners.?

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 9:43pm

Based on some of the comments I’m reading here I would say they couldn’t find anybody that could teach reading or wanted to teach reading. Thank God both my boys learned how to read by the time they got out of kindergarten but we did not have things like social justice and political correctness being taught in the schools yet. Somebody mentioned Critical Thinking was important. Whose going to read the subject matter to the students that can’t read?

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 9:39pm

This is insane. How are they going to excel in any other subject if they can’t read proficiently? Oh maybe you’re talking about a course like social justice or selling pencils on a street corner or?

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 1:22pm

Why aren't these kids in summer school instead of keeping them in the 3rd grade again? Is it because it would cost money? I'm not insinuating anything here; I'm just asking. A lot of these kids don't have parents at home or parents who encourage them to spend more time with books during the too-long-already break. They could benefit most from the structure of summer school.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 3:24pm

That's a much more compassionate approach, but I think the GOP goal is to shame the children that are having difficulties.

Sun, 02/02/2020 - 2:30pm


Helen Moore
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 10:20am

No matter what happens with retention law, we will keep mobilizing our community to stop illiteracy in Detroit and we will not allow our 3rd graders to be punished for the failure, over the years, of not getting the resources and help from the state that would have prevented the republicans and Governor Snyder from passing this law.

Bob Short
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 10:51am

I had students in the seventh and eighth who could not read above the third grade level! Teach them to read and the rest of their education will be much easier!
Elementary teachers are overwhelmed with too much!

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 10:53am

The law was always based on the unsupported premise that if schools just tried harder, they would be successful. They wouldn't need additional resources for the specialized testing Anna recommends, or for more one-on-one and small group time where teachers can really make a difference. They wouldn't need additional social services for poor children, who are expected to learn in spite of hunger, ear aches, poor vision, scenes of violence at home, etc. Just like the damn roads, reading scores will require resources to fix, not just pressure from conservative politicians.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 10:55am

Everyone develops at a different pace. YOU are good at some things and not others. Picking on third graders and dislocating them socially - away from their peers - should not be easy. There is more mental & social harm done following this extremists law. I absolutely agree with this civil protest. Instead, beef up pre-school reading programs such as Great Start for Kids. Add supports who are not keeping pace with their peers (remediate). And accept that some have talents in other areas.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 11:01am

What are these “revolting” schools doing to ensure that the non-readers are brought up to speed so they can progress with their class? Passing a kid who can’t read up to the next grade pushes the problem onto someone else. Is that is what is going on?

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 11:41am

It seems it is easier for schools administrators/staff to resist adults than it is to talk about what is preventing kids from learning to read, and what should/could replace the requirements the are spending so much energy on circumventing.
Why don't we read on Bridge what schools are succeeding and why and how that could be leverage at other schools. Why isn't about managing the system, rather than looking for new/better ways to make the system work? Why don't schools [not in my district] talk about their programs, how they are succeeding and how the community can help? Why do we hear about metrics that validate program?

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 11:48am

Intead of revolting these schools should be evaluating their curriculum and make changes to how they are teaching reading to their students. The school methods, financial commitment and emphasis are failing not the students. Reading is the most important thing a school can teach. Without reading a student is doomed to a life of failure.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:28pm

I'm going to love to see all of the faux-outrage in a decade when the latest hand-wringing will be forused on why schools have graduated students who haven't mastered anything because the so-called experts felt that inflating their self-esteem was more important.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:58pm

This /that is what happened to me, we moved during the 3rd grade and the new school was a head of my old school so they just kept passing me. I never did caught up. I joined the Army as soon as I turned 17 because I couldn't do high school work . My reading is fine now but it's only because I read. I feel: 1st my parents let me down ( everything depends on the home) 2nd. school never took the time to give me extra help to caught up :(

Truth be told
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 1:04pm

Nine out of ten students with dyslexia are never diagnosed. Force-feeding them phonics doesn't work. The current system is failing the kids, in both public and private schools, not the other way around. Fund programs for diagnosing dyslexia, train teachers in Orton-Gillingham approach. Or just use that method for all students. It doesn't hurt and testing for dyslexia will not be necessary! Do we have to wait for a lieutenant governor whose child has dyslexia to get sensible compassionate legislation from the GOP? That's what was needed for autism help from Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 9:43am

I agree very strongly with you that the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading is what works best for almost all students with dyslexia. HOWEVER, Orton-Gillingham is based very firmly on a multi-sensory approach to systematic instruction in both phonics and language structure (prefixes, suffixes, root meanings) which develops both decoding and reading comprehension skills. This is in dramatic contrast to the unstructured, extremely basic phonics instruction that most Michigan teachers provide under the label of "Balanced Literacy". Orton-Gillingham is also quite different from both the idiocy that is "Whole Language" and the "Phonics First, Last and Only" approach both of which ignore the patterns of meaning associated with so many words that are critical to developing students' vocabulary and reading fluency beyond the primary school level

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 2:07pm

This is absolutely disturbing. I have a son that has autism that is in the 3rd grade. And I can recognize that right now, he's not going to be able to read at his grade level. However, he's significantly behind his neurotypical peers. We're working hard to close the gaps, but his delay is something that will continue for some time. In terms of his overall academics for "special education" he's on track.

Deliberately looking for loop holes instead of actively, aggressively working to resolve this goes right back to the group of students that sued Detroit Public Schools for passing them on grade after grade despite the fact that they couldn't read or write well. And Detroit's response was all too telling, reading and writing are not a fundamental right. That tells you everything you need to know. Systemic abuse.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 2:15pm

In my opinion, the greatest influence on childhood learning is the parent teaching the child at an extremely young age. Reading them a book with pictures when the child doesn’t even seem to understand is an immense head start toward reading. Teaching your child numbers when they are just 1 year old gives them a huge head start in math. By the time the child is old enough to go to school, it is too late to start learning. Practical experience with my kids and grandkids says you have to start teaching them well before they are 3 years old.

All are Different
Mon, 02/03/2020 - 1:39pm

Parents and parental involvement is very important, but your ideas and opinion do not work for many children. Most teachers don't know how to help children with special needs. Even fewer parents know how to do so. Schools need funding to help struggling students, rather than what we have now. Presently schools try to deny services to students just to save money for the most severe cases. Their goal is to segregate students with special needs and pigeon-hole them at a very young age into low-paying job choices. It's messed up. Even with parent advocates, the system is very adversarial.

Sun, 02/09/2020 - 8:33pm

I agree with the value of parents teaching ABCs and numbers at an early age, the earlier the better. You can even introduce basic math early -- How many fries are on your plate? Three. You ate one, now how many do you have? Make it a game, and they learn without realizing it. Unfortunately, not all parents care enough to do this. But I don't agree that it's too late to start by the time they start school.

David Murray
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 2:23pm

You mean to say schools think they know what's better for their students than politicians? How radical.

Scott Baker
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 3:24pm

Michigan’s third grade reading law is an excellent example of what happens when people with no expertise in child development, literacy, or education make rules concerning child development, literacy, or education. Looking at you, former Representative Amanda Price.

This law was fatally flawed from the beginning because it was based on a false premise - that children’s brains develop at the same rate and are all capable of the same skills at the same time. Though I’ve had the advantage of 25+ years of experience working with struggling readers, I think it should be pretty obvious to anyone with children that this is a ridiculous idea.

Yet there are those education hobbyists who still believe in treating children like widgets - identical interchangeable parts to fit into the economy. If they don’t come out of the machine as planned, simply tinker with the machine (or blame the operators).

I’ve had quite a bit of success teaching struggling readers, but there have been some with severe dyslexia, cognitive impairments, and/or behavior issues that keep us from meeting our goals. These goals, incidentally, aren’t set arbitrarily by an outside agency. We meet as a team, review test results and classroom achievement, and set realistic goals based on the student’s abilities and challenges. It’s part of the Individualized Education Plan. The state has tried to mimic this process via the IRIP (Individualized Reading Improvement Plan), the difference being the IRIP is focused on getting the square peg into the round hole at the same time as the other pegs with little regard for individual differences.

Reading is a higher order skill, and English is a complex language. Students benefit from learning the rules of English orthography, but they need time to practice applying them. Unfortunately, the pace of our instruction is currently driven by the Common Core machine which demands teachers and students cover (not necessarily learn) a set amount of material in time to regurgitate aforementioned material on a standardized test in the spring. We are simply not afforded the time to practice and achieve mastery of very important foundational skills. Scrap the Common Core (and scrap the M-Step, which is just a tool to coerce the implementation of the Common Core) and dispose of this idea that children should develop in lock step with other children of similar age. That’s for starters. Next, have a long, thoughtful conversation with educators. We are here at Ground Zero, where theory meets practice. A few minutes spent running the next reform fad by us might save everyone some time and money.

On a separate note, I notice every education article in Bridge Magazine has to have the input of Education Trust - Midwest or the Mackinac Center connected Great Lakes Education Project. Do they share office space with you? It’s like a group of wealthy tourists on safari. They stop, take a few pictures of something they’ve never seen up close before, then tell the guide how the park could be better managed. This is followed by dinner back at the lodge and a round of self-congratulatory applause. Oddly, they never seem to be around to see the damage they cause. But you can rest assured, they’ll be back with their cameras and bad advice next year.

John Chastain
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 3:32pm

People don’t trust the law, the intent of the reactionary republicans that created it or the incompetent governor that signed it. These are the same short sighted politicians who for decades now have cut school funding while insulting and dismissing anyone not on board their starve public schools into oblivion strategy. Republicans are opposed to government intervention until their not. & when it comes to poor people the white conservatives behind this law are all for intervention on their terms. Bet this doesn’t apply to the conservative religious schools they want to take the place of public education.

Fri, 01/31/2020 - 3:36pm

Nine out of ten people with dyslexia. It's ridiculous to insist they learn phonics. Teach all the kids as youngsters using Orton-Gillingham Approach. That would save money on testing. Insisting on teaching phonics is probably the biggest reason why so many kids grow to hate school and fail to do better.

Donya Novak
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 4:28pm

Wow, so it's all about the money and not about how poorly educated these kids are in the Michigan public school system. Theyve been in their system for 4 to 5 years and they still cant teach them. This is why I'd never allow my kids to be taught at a public school. These 5000 kids will receive a high school diploma and probably wont be able to read above a 6th grade level. Excellent job there Michigan!

Ronald VanAtta
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 6:18pm

So are school officials just going to push these students all the way thru 12th grade whether they can read or not? Didn't see any other solutions listed.

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 9:50am

That's what they do now. Why would schools change on their own for the good of their students. The state wouldn't have had to step in if schools were doing the right thing in the first place. Now if we could only get them to apply this to math, english, science and the like.

Wayne O'Brien
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 9:57pm

This very cogent comment (link below) does focus on the important aspects of what happens in colleges of ed and in elementary classrooms......so important to our state with the controversial law currently in place that may fail thousands of 3rd graders (by year's end) for not reading at grade level. Third graders are targeted to be punished and stigmatized when the adults who failed the third graders (little or no science-of-reading instruction in college teacher prep) and the administrators and board members who did not make certain that only well-prepared teachers (with science-of-reading-credentials) were employed are held blameless.....I think the final allusion in the link below to court action is interesting and that "remedy" may increasingly become a part of the next chapter of this depressingly sad story.


University presidents, provosts and certainly deans of colleges of education need to be similarly stigmatized for credentialing teacher graduates without the proper knowledge and skills to deliver a science-based literacy program. Yes, that does mean that so-called "balanced literacy" with whole language aspects and without phonemic awareness is a farce and should be purged from recommendation or consideration. The proposed stop-gap so called "solution" for Michigan is to hire very expensive literacy coaches. This is unproven---little hard data supports literacy coaching for teachers and the little that has been done suggests that only some elementary students benefit and for those students the benefit is just modest.....although anecdotal reports suggest that school personnel often "feel" that is is beneficial. Why ought the state spend hundreds of thousands of dollars because of how some folks in the schools "feel". Policy-makers and legislators and district level money-spenders need and must require proof before literacy-coaching for teachers becomes the newest state-wide educational fad.

Chuck Jordan
Sat, 02/01/2020 - 10:16am

There is nothing that is magical about 3rd grade. Kids develop at different ages in all ways.
The testing of grade level reading is misguided and often discriminatory.
Just repeating a grade doing the same stuff that didn't work is the definition of insanity.
Take the money that would be spent on another year in same grade and use it to hire real reading specialists and mentors.
Reading depends on prior knowledge and the more or less a child has affects reading ability.
Prior knowledge is affected by poverty and parent involvement in a child's life.
There is no one way to teach all children and all children do not learn the same way. Reading teachers know this.
We need to learn why a student is not learning to read and intervene appropriately. Smaller class sizes will help make that possible. How many children with issues that disrupt a class determines whether class sizes matter.
Social promotion is an issue, but we should not blame teachers for that. Parents and principals will often overrule teachers.
Education and reading is complicated.

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 10:04am

You're right that nothing is "magical" about 3rd grade. What is true, however, is that after 3rd grade, the curriculum changes to depend more and more on students reading independently to find information in order to do their classwork or homework. Students who cannot read or comprehend what they read cannot learn independently without accommodations like Books on Tape or having exam questions read to them, and should not be "thrown into the deep end" of 4th and higher grades to sink or swim. You're also right that having a student repeat the same content, same assignments, same "help sessions" the second time through 3rd grade will probably not help them improve their reading.

However, the "recommend retention" cut score for reading was set to correspond to "beginning of 2nd grade" reading fluency. If a kid ends 3rd grade two full academic years behind in reading, what are the chances that kid will be able to keep up with the classwork expectations in 4th grade? Also, what are the chances that they've really mastered the math, science, social sciences, and behavioral expectations of 3rd grade but are really that far behind on reading?

In those rare cases where a student is dramatically behind their classmates in reading, but not in any other school subjects, they should probably be promote, tested for special education eligibility, and given more intensive reading support. However, if that student isn't at or near "end of 3rd grade" level in math, in science, in social studies, we should hold them in third grade and use as much school time as necessary to improve their reading, and to master any other subjects so that they are well prepared to make the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn".

Chuck Jordan
Mon, 02/03/2020 - 6:50pm

Sounds like maybe I can agree with you. If schools look at the whole child and his/her progress in all subjects, then that makes sense. It makes sense in all grades. But I don't trust the tests or the teaching to the tests, the use short passages of out of context information or stories to which the student must guess the right answer. Maybe better would be to change the fourth grade curriculum because really we are all always learning to read to read to learn. Surrounding kids with all kinds of knowledge in various modalities and having them read lots of books they enjoy reading will help more than repeating that one grade. Again, if the student is way behind in all subjects, then yes first find out why and if necessary hold her back.

RJ Webber
Sat, 02/01/2020 - 1:49pm

Additional perspective on this issue: The mechanism to retain students in this legislation is based on a single assessment, a single moment in time to determine retaining a student...it is an intellectually lazy approach to determining reading proficiency. I can also state that fostering the ability to read is a primary goal of the staff in my district and the goal of educators across the state. In Novi, we are fortunate to have low class sizes and the resources to provide layers of additional literacy support for each of our students...yet some students continue to struggle. I know we commit resources to train our teachers how to better serve students...yet students continue to struggle to read. I know our teachers pour there heart and souls into their students...yet children continue to struggle to read. I know teachers throughout Michigan are desperate for the resources necessary to give each of their students the opportunity to learn they deserve. I know that some students require more resources to help them succeed...equity in funding is critical. I know that punishing students/teachers as a method to improve reading outcomes is incredibly short sighted and cowardly. In my mind, it is about having the courage to admit we have failed our kids by failing to support our schools. Over the last eight years, people entering teacher prep programs in Michigan has dropped 70%...are we ready to ask ourselves why? Are we ready to acknowledge that resources matter? Thank You for being willing to read my perspective.

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 5:26pm

If we actually followed our State Constitution, all legislated school law would be unconstitutional. It's the legislature's job to appropriate funds, not set state policy for public schools. Policy decisions, according to our constitution, are supposed to be made by a different elected body, the State Board of Education, and only by this elected body.

The same is true for state colleges. Policy making authority lies with their elected or appointed board, not the legislature or the governor.

You can't fragment authority like we do and expect to have anything resembling public school policy coherence, consistency or competency. Our public schools are among the worst in the country because they're poorly managed at the state level.

Paul Jordan
Sun, 02/02/2020 - 10:26am

I hope that this 'revolt' is a sign that schools and the public they serve are ready to firmly declare that Republicans' 30+ year legislative effort to degrade public education is over.
It has been a colossal failure. Once upon a time, Michigan had one of the best performing public school systems. Now, we are are a state where young families with children don't want to move here and new teachers don't want to work here.
Congratulations, Betsy DeVos!

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 8:18am

Go back to gov't class. Legislatures are supposed to appropriate money and part of the process is monitoring the effectiveness of how it is used. Education has been on a failing track since the 70's, Betsy was what 15 then? Nice try.

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 11:33am

And what happened in the 70s? Oh right, that was the birth of neoliberalism, coupled with the privatization and destruction of any and all public goods; chief among them public schools

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 1:31pm

You mean 1770s.? But probably more importantly and among other things unwed motherhood /single parent family prevalence took off and never slowed down. And to your point per pupil spending went on a tear also, so a funny way to destroy public Ed.

Please Stop
Tue, 02/04/2020 - 8:40am

There are wealthy two-parent homes struggling with an adversarial system when their children have special needs, whether it is anything from dyslexia to autism. Your comments about family structures are nothing less than a futile attempt at veiled racism. Many children from single parent homes do just fine. Try to open your mind and stop promoting stereotypical bigoted dogma. Family support is important, but there are many ways to show support. Public schools have to attend to the needs of ALL children regardless of circumstances and needs. It doesn't help that schools now have to pay for police-force type security and waste time on lock-down drills because of the prevalence of guns and lack of mental healthcare. Truth is that there are so many cultural problems that are not being addressed because we now live in a time when no one cares for others.

Sun, 02/02/2020 - 2:26pm

to "lift" a child who has not mastered the material at any grade level is criminal. Reading is the most important subject taught. In the long run, to pass a child is the most punitive action applied to the child.

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 9:37am

I support this law to the fullest but I also believe this law should be for every grade and every subject.

Jim Kress
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 3:50pm

If a child cannot read, how will they learn? Reading is an absolutely essential element of education. To allow children to advance in the school system in the absence of reading ability is akin to sending a soldier to battle with no ammunition.

Reading is essential to success. Any person in the educational system who refuses to ensure students can read condemns the children/ students to a life of poverty and misery.

Sun, 02/09/2020 - 11:51pm

Holy crap, this is craziness. Teachers and parents used to get us excited to learn instead of making excuses. They spent time with us. Who doesn’t want to learn to read? There are 24 hours in a day. If your kid can’t read, you just may be an A-hole. Also in case you forgot, there’s this thing called a library, and it’s free!!!

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 9:23pm

It would seem to me that the comments made by school administrators and teachers alike concerning this new law only demonstrate the teachers in the state of Michigan or not on the same sheet of music as the people paying their wages. The idea that a child cannot read adequately by the time they’re in third grade is repulsive. How does this third grader deal with the simplest of things like a math problem, grammar or history? How does this third grader pass any of his other subjects? Maybe the real answer is we fire the teachers that have not taught them to read! Maybe were testing the wrong group of people maybe we should be testing the teachers.