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Third-Grade Reading, Retention Bill Now Law: What Parents Need To Know

By David Eggert, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed an early literacy bill on Thursday, requiring third-graders be held back if they lag in reading, though there are a number of exemptions to let kids still advance for "good cause."

The legislation makes Michigan the 17th state with such rules. The Republican-controlled House last month approved the bill 60-47 and the GOP-led Senate passed the measure 25-10 — both mostly along party lines.

Here's a breakdown of the law:


Starting in the 2019-20 school year, third-graders will not advance unless their state reading score is less than a grade level behind, they show proficiency through an alternative assessment or they demonstrate mastery through work samples.

Parents may seek a "good cause" exemption, which applies to kids with disabilities, students for whom English is second language, those previously held back despite receiving intensive reading help for at least two years and newer students who didn't receive an appropriate individualized reading intervention in their old district.

Superintendents or their designees also may promote children to fourth grade if it's in their "best interests."

Screening and Intervention

School districts and charter schools must assess the reading skills of K-3 students at least three times per academic year, including once in the first 30 days of school. Kids with a delay or deficiency will receive an individual reading improvement plan within 30 days, created by their teacher, principal and parent(s).

"Intensive" intervention continues until the children no longer have a reading deficiency, while "literacy coaches" will model appropriate instruction and training for teachers. Parents will be given a "read at home" plan, and schools will be encouraged to offer summer reading camps.

Why Third Graders?

It's the last year students learn to read before transitioning to reading to learn. Advocates of the measure said the goal isn't to keep kids back a grade, noting that mandatory retention is necessary so that students don't fall further behind.

Opponents questioned whether holding back students works and whether the emotional trauma does more harm than good. .

State Test

Just 46 percent of Michigan's 105,000 third-graders were proficient in English language arts on the M-STEP state assessment given in the spring. Twenty-nine percent weren't proficient while 25 percent were "partially proficient."

The law leaves it to the state Department of Education to determine when a reading score indicates that students are more than one grade level behind, meaning it's unclear how many more students could be retained, especially given that school officials will have flexibility to decide when to hold a student back. Currently, less than 1 percent of students repeat third grade.


The Republican governor and legislators have set aside about $60 million more for early literacy initiatives in the current and next fiscal year, but it's not clear what retention will cost the state throughout a held-back student's time in school.


Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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