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West Michigan schools prepare students to meet 3rd Grade Reading Law requirements

Michigan's 3rd Grade Reading Law went into effect two years ago, as reading proficiency in the state plummeted to a new low.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - With class back in session for many West Michigan schools, local school districts are wasting no time getting kids ready to meet Michigan's 3rd Grade Reading Law standards.

Area schools are preparing to have students, in grades kindergarten through 8th, take the Measurements of Adequate Progress (MAP) test, within the next couple of weeks.

"Using the MAP test helps because we use the 60th percentile as grade level proxy. So, if a child scores at the 60th percentile, that tells us they are likely to be proficient when they take the M-STEP (Michigan Student Test for Educational Progress) in the Spring," said Bridget Cheney, the executive director of elementary and pre-K through 8 for Grand Rapids Public Schools. "The test also helps to drive instruction - the diagnostic tests as well. It is helping us really determine where those gaps are in instruction and also in learning. It helps us be very strategic and intentional in what we are teaching and how we are teaching the children."

Michigan's 3rd Grade Reading Law went into effect two years ago, as reading proficiency in the state plummeted to a new low. The law, essentially, requires districts to hold back third-graders who are not reading at grade level. Many of the provisions have been phased in over the past couple of years. And, retention won't be enforced until the next year, in 2019-20. However, this year, parents can expect their children to take the MAP test three times during the academic year. They will then take the standardized M-STEP test toward the end of the final semester.

"If a child is not reading at grade level, parents are notified at the beginning of the year of an individualized improvement plan currently. That is where we put interventions into place to hopefully bring them up to proficiency," said Cheney. "It is extremely important. First of all, we want every single child to be reading at grade level, whether there is a law or not. But, with the sanctions or consequences being so high for kids - as far as that retention piece - we want to make sure everybody we can get to reading at proficiency this year."

When the law went into effect, less than half of Michigan's 3rd graders were reading at grade level. Cheney said that could have dire consequences for those children.

"Third-grade was not an arbitrary choice. What we have seen is if you are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade, research shows that typically you have a lesser chance, or you are less likely, to graduate high school, which we know has tremendous implications in life," she explained.

Students who meet certain criteria are eligible to request a "good cause exemption" status which would make it so they do not have to repeat the 3rd grade.

"Of course we would not want to utilize those if we don't have to, but there are some good cause exemptions. For example, if perhaps a child has a second language and is an English language learner, that is considered a good cause exemption. Students with Individualized Education Plans could be a good cause exemption. So, there are a few other avenues to look at when you are talking about retention," said Cheney.

She said the increased testing has provided valuable information to educators. That information has allowed GRPS to shape resources to meet the needs of each individual child.

"We are using what is called 'TutorMate,',which is a tutoring program that's virtual. We have 'Infinity Mentoring' also which we partner with," Cheney said. "Both of those have been very helpful for us as far as getting students to be read to, but also to read to someone else and asking some comprehension questions and things like that.

"Another thing it has done, and this is wonderful, is to bring the community together around this literacy crisis. That has been phenomenal."

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