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Will the 3rd grade reading law work?

 In 2016, Michigan passed a Read by Grade Three Law that “requires that students who are more than one year behind grade-level in reading are subject to retention and additional support to improve their reading level. 

This component of the law takes effect for the 2020-2021 school year, using assessment data from the spring 2020 assessments.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, “Using the data from the spring 2020 assessments, and other scores, students whose scores are deficient will be flagged for retention.” Deficient is defined in the law “as scoring below grade level or being determined to be at-risk of reading failure based on a screening assessment, diagnostic assessment, standardized summative assessment, or progress monitoring.”

Once the student has been flagged for retention, an Individualized Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP) will be developed within 30 calendar days. The IRIP will be created by teachers, principals, and parents. The IRIP will describe the reading intervention services a student needs to become proficient in reading. A reading program, evidenced-based literacy instruction and other reading plans will be included in the IRIP. Students must adhere to the IRIP until they become proficient. Parents are included in this plan and can help their children by using a formalized read-at-home plan, or enroll their students in after school tutorials or other literacy programs.

Some feel that this could harm third graders, because many students aren’t reading at the state’s standard. In 2019, 55% of third graders did not meet state standards for reading. Many educators believe retention is not the answer, so they are trying to limit the number of students being retained.

In an article in the Detroit Free Press, DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said: “The law places too much emphasis on the state reading test. It’s punitive on the student side. It contradicts what we know best as practice and really what’s best for children. We should never use a standardized test as a way to punish children.”

There are some who are for this law. Former state Rep. Amanda Price, who sponsored the bill that was signed in 2016, told the Free Press: “Educators are digging down and understanding now, not only the law, but how to improve literacy on a system-wide basis. There’s some really cool stuff going on around the state and the places that are doing cool stuff on literacy, I'm really seeing improvement.”

Although Former Representative Price sees improvement in some areas, many districts may be struggling to make improvements. Highly effective teachers, literacy coaches, reading specialists, and resources are needed to fulfill the IRIP services for each student. Title I funds and Targeted Assistant Grants can be used to provide the necessary resources in the IRIP.  

But will there be enough resources and staff for each student flagged for retention? What reading resources will be used and are they really effective in helping children become proficient in reading? Parents are included in the development of the IRIP. What happens if/when parents cannot or do not help their child become proficient in reading? What happens then?

In October, 2019, The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) published a Read by Grade Three Guide.  

This guide addresses some of the basic questions and concerns districts, educators, and parents may have about the Read by Grade Three Law. MDE will update and revise this document as new information becomes available. 

In addition, Detroit Public Schools recently sent home a Third Grade Reading Law Update and fact sheet to help parents understand the law and address any concerns they may have. 

Parents are advised to call their child’s school principal if they have additional concerns and questions.


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