Low reading scores could hold thousands of Michigan students back

Nearly 5,700 third-graders may have to repeat a grade due to low Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress English scores.
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:39 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:51 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Thousands of Michigan students could be legally prevented from advancing a grade because of their reading skills.

The Michigan Department of Education said closer to 5,700 third-graders could be held back from entering fourth grade next school year. State law specifies that students who fail to hit a certain English score on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) can be required to repeat third grade. Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency (MARESA) Superintendent Dr. Gregory Nyen said it is important to monitor students’ reading ability.

“The focus on literacy is appropriate for the State of Michigan and for all states across the country,” Dr. Nyen said.

Dr. Nyen, however, said Michigan’s ‘Read by Grade Three Law’ does not address the underlying causes of poor reading skills. These include low-income students and students with learning disabilities among others.

“You cannot legislate reading ability,” Dr. Nyen said. “Although this law is another opportunity to place accountability squarely on educators, the real barriers to learning are not being addressed.”

Dr. Nyen emphasized that holding students back a grade increases their likelihood of dropping out of school, leading to fewer job opportunities, lower salaries and a greater probability of involvement with the criminal justice system. Dr. Nyen added that it is also harmful to their social, emotional and behavioral health, increasing the number of poor, male, minority students made to repeat third grade.

“Students who are retained (held back) often will have a more negative outlook of school in general,” Dr. Nyen said. “This is because retention is immediately traumatic. During a day-in-age when we are focusing so much on trauma in schools it is difficult to understand why we would engage in a practice that we know is traumatic for students.”

Dr. Nyen said that the ‘Read by Grade Three Law’ also captures a brief moment in a student’s educational career when determining whether or not to hold them back. Dr. Nyen added he does not believe this is enough evidence to justify repeating a grade.

“We are using a single snapshot in time, one test score, to determine the outcome of a student,” Dr. Nyen emphasized. “That is problematic. We would not go to see our physician and base treatment on a single data point. Likewise, for our students, we should be making decisions that are based on data and are taking in the full scope of what they are bringing to the classroom each day.”

Dr. Nyen said educators and parents do ultimately have a responsibility to ensure their children have competent reading skills so they can succeed going forward in school.

“Ensuring that teachers align instructional materials for students that are both age and grade appropriate is critical for supporting our young readers,” Dr. Nyen pointed out. “Parents can also play a significant role by supporting reading habits at home and modeling reading habits at home.”

How can parents do this? The Peter White Public Library in Marquette has a summer reading program that may be able to help spark a young person’s interest in reading.

“This year the theme of our reading program is called ‘Oceans of Possibilities’ and we have 8 to 9 solid weeks of fun reading programming,” Peter White Public Library Youth Services Director Sarah Rehborg said.

Rehborg added that this is one of many ways parents can promote reading to their kids. Rehborg said she encourages parents with kids disinterested in reading to stop by and work with the library to find something their kids may be interested in.

“If you have a child that really does not love reading too much you can come to us and see if we can help choose something,” Rehborg said. “We can help give them some suggestions based on what they like.”

Rehborg emphasized that it is important to let your child read what they want. If it is above their reading level, help them out. If it is below their level, encourage it nonetheless. Rehborg said doing this could encourage them to continue reading and building their skills.

“Surround your kids with books, surround your kids with words,” Rehborg said. “A really key thing to do to get kids to read during the summer is to let them read what they want to read.”

More details on the Peter White Public Library’s summer reading program can be found by visiting the library’s youth services page on its website by clicking here. Registration for the summer reading program begins June 11.

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