New reading law in effect

3rd-graders can be held back if they’re behind in reading

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Ella White Elementary School teacher Becky Meyer reads to her class last week.

ALPENA — If state tests show a third-grader is one year or more behind in reading, they could be held back, according to a state law that is officially in effect.

The law was signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder in October 2015, but this school year is the first year that third-graders can be held back based on test scores.

In the 2018-19 school year, 30% of Northeast Michigan third-graders were not proficient in reading, according to Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress scores.

Meaghan Gauthier, director of K-12 curriculum for Alpena Public Schools, said an expectation under the law is that teachers are providing high-quality instruction with evidence-based resources and are using data to guide instruction.

Every student in kindergarten through third grade is assessed three times a year under the law. Teachers use those scores to figure out which kids need more help. Scores from the M-STEP, given once a year, are used to determine if a student is held back.

“If a student does not meet the benchmark for their grade level, they’re required to have an individual reading improvement plan,” Gauthier said. “We’re required to do that, which is basically using the data to say what supports are going to be put in place in the classroom and what type of intervention are the students going to get.”

The law allows superintendents to move kids on to fourth grade, even if they’re behind on reading, if those kids meet certain criteria. Kids can be advanced if they’ve received two years of reading intervention, a parent or legal guardian requests an exemption, has less than three years of instruction in a school’s reading program, or other factors.

“That’s a really important piece that families need to be aware of,” Gauthier said. “We’re going to advocate for every child to be promoted, if that is what is the best fit. We’re going to want to look at each student, because retaining a student in third grade is a really big deal and is not something we just want to take lightly.”

Parent Raymond Kuntz said in a Facebook post he loves the law, because it takes control from the parents who want to push their kids through school, regardless of passing status.

“This law has many faults,” parent Mary Christensen-Cooper said in a separate Facebook post. “Retention has been shown to increase high school dropout rates.”

Gauthier said holding a student back isn’t proven to work and can lower a student’s confidence and they may not be motivated to complete third grade a second time. She said that, the older students get, the more detrimental being held back is.

Families can help students as they grow, Gauthier said, by having the child read to somebody and making reading a part of the daily routine.

“At any age, your children need you,” Gauthier said.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.