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Third graders must have solid reading foundation to succeed later

We’re having a vigorous debate in Michigan about how to address the fact that nearly one-third of our elementary school students are not proficient readers. Given the critical importance of early literacy to future academic success, Michigan is considering whether to join 35 other states in addressing this issue, or whether to continue without a statewide strategy and simply hope for better outcomes.

A bipartisan bill package, modeled after Florida’s success, is currently being debated by the legislature. HB 5111, sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) and HB 5144, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Stallworth (D-Detroit), provide a comprehensive approach to improving early literacy. These bills would requiring screenings in first 30 days of the school year for all students in grades K-3; 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.

You won’t hear about it from the traditional school lobby and the other critics, but these bills have gone through a number of significant changes and improvements since their introduction. The substitute bills allow students to retake the state assessment and promote local control through implementation of “good cause” exemptions for students passing an alternative assessment; for those demonstrating proficiency through a portfolio of work; students with an IEP; and English Language Learners.

The most significant change in the bills is that potential retention is now limited to only those 11,000 students considered “not proficient” and not the 24,000 “partially proficient” students across the state each year.

It’s important to note that students considered partially proficient and those non-proficient students promoted via a good cause exemption would still receive help and assistance through a Reading Improvement Plan, but retention would not be an option.

Provided we have the same success as Florida, we are likely to improve reading proficiency for over 30,000 students each year while the number students likely to be retained is expected to be roughly 2,650 across the state, or an average of 3 students per district, under this approach.

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, before the end of the year.

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