LANSING (AP) — Michigan lawmakers began debating Wednesday whether to take a hard-line stance by holding back the state’s 36,000 third-graders who are not proficient in reading.
Legislation considered by a House panel and introduced a day before would prohibit students from starting fourth grade next school year and beyond without passing the third-grade state reading assessment. The proposal immediately sparked vigorous discussion, often along party lines, about how best to bring kids up to par and catch reading problems earlier so “retention” is unnecessary.
Roughly one-third of Michigan’s public school third-graders aren’t proficient in reading. Third grade is considered a key indicator of future success because it’s when students move from learning to read to reading to learn.
“Reading proficiency is one of the most important measures in public education and it’s time we make this a top priority,” said Rep. Amanda Price, a Holland Republican and the bill sponsor who said 14 states have policies to hold back students not reading at grade level. Some offer more leeway than others.
Most of the testimony on the legislation and a bill to grade public schools from A to F instead of colors came from a representative of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Asked by Democrats why draw the line at third grade, senior policy fellow Christy Hovanetz said children develop and learn differently until then but must be able to read proficiently in third grade to grasp other topics later. Third grade also is the first year pupils take a statewide assessment, she said.
“We’re looking at retention as a last resort,” said Hovanetz, a former education commissioner for Florida and Minnesota. “This is for students who after four years of being in the public school system haven’t gotten the support and resources that they needed in order to become a proficient reader.”