GRAND RAPIDS CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Education leaders say Michigan is in a "literary crisis," with the state's third grade students testing on the lower end of the 50 states nationally during the M-STEP or National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The Read by Grade Three law was passed in 2016 to combat the low literacy rates.
The law states that third graders may repeat the third grade if they are more than one grade level behind. It went into effect at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. The law also requires schools to identify students who are struggling and provide additional help.
Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) said it was the first school district to advocate for the legislation when it was being introduced.
"We needed to put a spotlight on the issue of third grade reading. Because we know the outcome of that third grade reading test, that those students—if they are proficient—they’re more likely to graduate and have successful careers," said John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for GRPS.
Helmholdt added the school district was diligent in advocating for its students as well, helping to make the law more fair and inclusive.
"State Representative Amanda Price, who is from West Michigan, she introduced legislation and the first version literally said if third grade students are not proficient in ELA they’re automatically retained. Period. You can imagine that created quite a storm in Lansing," he recalled, saying the initial introduction as a bill didn't account for at-risk students battling poverty, disabilities or speaking English as a second language.
The law now has some exceptions built in to help at-risk students move forward.
"Almost a quarter of our student population are English language learners, yet they are held to the exact same standards as English-speaking students...Let’s say they’re not proficient in ELA, but they are proficient in another subject area, that could be a factor for them continuing," Helmholdt said.
Under the law, assessments are given to all learners from kindergarten to third grade within 30 days of the first day of school. Following assessments, an Individualized Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP) will be made for students who fall under an area of concern.
"In addition to the M-STEP, which is the state assessment, GRPS administers the MAP test. So we test them three times a year to see where students are at with their growth…We’re testing where the kids are at before they even get to third grade, so we can determine what layer of interventions that we can put on," Helmholdt said.
The IRIP is developed by teachers, the principal, parent(s) or legal guardian(s). GRPS said some students plans will be more intense than others and can range from at-home reading kits, to after-school tutoring.
Kent District Library (KDL) and the Literacy Center of West Michigan are providing assistance as well. KDL's Mission: Read program encourages kids to read for 1,000 days before 6th grade, and its librarians have been trained on the core aspects of reading to help children and adults succeed.
The Literacy Center of West Michigan focuses on growing literacy in adults by providing tutoring, classes and group nights where parents can learn more about reading plans with their children.
"Literacy is inter-generational. The literacy of parents and caregivers in parents lives is going to have a direct and fundamental impact in that child’s literacy," said Dr. Wendy Falb, executive director or the Literacy Center of West Michigan.
If after the M-STEP test in the spring of their third-grade year, a student scores more than one grade level behind, a parents or guardians will get a notification that their child may be retained. The notification will happen by June 1 of the student's third grade school year.
If parents or guardians disagree with the decision to hold a child back, they can file a Good Cause Exemption within 30 days of receiving notice. The child's school must take a meeting to discuss the child's progress. However, the school's principal and or superintendent will make the final decision, and parents or guardians will be notified at least 30 days before the first day of school the upcoming school year.
If a child is retained, the child's school will provide a IRIP and monitor the student for growth.
For more information on the Read by Grade Three Law, click here.
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