by Scott McClallen
The Democrat-dominated Michigan Legislature wants to scrap the retention part of the 2016 read-by-grade-three law.
State Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, introduced Senate Bill 12, which aims to stop the state from possibly holding students back who are one or more grade levels behind on reading. The law also requires reading intervention and ongoing monitoring assessments to support student literacy.
The bill follows a report from the Michigan State University Education Policy Innovation Collaborative saying that 548 third graders were retained last year, double the number from the previous year prior.
In all, 5,648 students third-grade pupils were at or below 1,252 points on the M-STEP English Language Arts portion of the M-STEP level to trigger the retention component of the Read Before Grade Three Law.
The Great Lakes Education Project supports the read-by-grade-three law. Executive Director Beth DeShone said the Democrat bill “would gut the state’s law and strip key reading supports away from the kids who need them the most.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the “Nation’s Report Card,” ranked Michigan’s fourth-grade reading scores at 43rd in the nation, a significant drop from the state’s 32nd ranking in 2019. The state’s eighth graders ranking dropped to 31st in the nation from its 28th berth in 2019.
In September, the National Center for Education Statistics said that the average scores for age nine students fell further than at any time in the last 30 years, while math scores for the same students declined for the first time since the implementation of the testing.
“Instead of sweeping struggling readers under the rug, public school bureaucrats should offer them a helping hand,” DeShone said in a statement. “Now’s the worst possible time to take away extra supports for kids that have fallen behind in the classroom. Now’s the perfect time to stand together, for policymakers to reach across the aisle, and put our kids first.”
Katharine Strunk, the director of the Michigan State University Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, told the House Education Committee that kids need more one-on-one time with teachers and more time in the classroom to improve literacy skills.
Strunk gave a “preliminary estimate” cost of retention at $6,640 in direct public expenditures per student annually and about $24,000 in private expenditures, at a total of around $30,000 over the student’s lifetime.
State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice opposes the retention part of the current law.
“While we agree with the student reading supports in the read-by-grade-three law and other efforts to improve literacy, we are opposed to the retention requirements in the law,” Rice said. “The read-by-grade-three law spends too much time on justifying why a student should be retained, at the expense of time spent improving the student’s reading ability.”
Rice called on the Legislature to provide $50 million – double the last amount received – to boost before- and after-school programs for K-12.
Rice called for universal preschool and for students to spend more time learning.
“We can talk about this ad nauseam if you would like, but the fact of the matter is, is that our school year pre-pandemic was too skinny, and coming out of the pandemic, it is skinnier still. Our children lost time; they need more time.”
He said that preschool, whether public or private, “should not be perceived as an optional experience for young people.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.