‘Read by Grade Three’ law helps students

This column originally appeared in the Traverse City Record Eagle.

The most important educational tool for building a child’s future success is the ability to read.

Reading is a big predictor of success in school, work and life. Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is essential for future learning. By fourth grade, there is a shift in focus from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” meaning those who are behind their classmates will fall further and further behind.

In 2016, Lansing passed a comprehensive “Read by Grade Three” law that goes into full effect this school year — with the goal of all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. The law ensures early identification of students struggling and establishes intensive reading support for those who need more help.

It’s hard to understand why some in the education community complain about the law. Leaders in Lansing need to stand firm and keep this critical assistance for students who struggle.

Students who aren’t proficient in reading by the end of third grade are four times more likely to not graduate high school. African-American and Hispanic students not reading in third grade are six times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

When students can’t read, problems don’t end in the classroom. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 7 out of 10 inmates in U.S. prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

It’s understandable why policymakers identified reading as a priority for Michigan’s students.

Thankfully, Michigan’s public schools and public charter schools have talented and dedicated teachers who take their students’ success seriously and personally.

The third-grade reading law supports teachers by ensuring students get help as early as kindergarten. Under the law, schools identify students who struggle to read and then deliver individualized support and resources to help them catch up, including reading improvement plans, literacy coaches, intervention programs and more.

At the end of third grade, students unable to demonstrate sufficient reading skills for promotion are retained and provided with more specialized support and time to catch up and enter fourth grade ready to “read to learn.”

“Retention” can be a challenging concept, but for students who face it, it may be a lifeline. Experts say retained students can catch up while students who are promoted without the instruction they need fall further behind. Minority students benefit the most.

A review conducted in 2017 found that students retained under this type of policy graduate with a higher GPA and take fewer remediation courses in high school. They outperform their peers who just met the cut score for promotion in reading and math, and they have a higher probability of graduating with a regular diploma.

Our state’s public schools — traditional and charter — spent the last three years preparing for the third grade reading law’s full implementation, focused on delivering results that help Michigan kids read.

They believe every student in Michigan matters. They’re right. That’s why we support the third-grade reading law.

About the author: Beth DeShone is the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a bi-partisan, nonprofit advocacy organization supporting quality choices in public education for Michigan students. GLEP supports efforts to improve academic achievement, increase accountability and empower parental choice.

Parents are counting on A-F School Grades, state must deliver

This column originally appeared in the Midland Daily News.

While lawmakers wrap up their summers, they and their staffs are constructing the reforms and priorities that will dominate their discussions once they return to Lansing.

Ensuring parents get report cards from their kids’ schools — a school transparency requirement under the state’s critical new A-F grading system for schools — should top their list. Lawmakers’ action is needed, because the state’s Department of Education is only days away from violating state law and abdicating its requirements for accountability to families.

Last winter, the Legislature approved critical reforms that would empower students, families and teachers by giving every public school in the state letter grades — A, B, C, D or F — in five key areas. The grades are to be based around student proficiency and growth in reading and math, and are set to go into effect in the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.

The first school report card is required by law to head home to parents just over a month from now.

Our students bring home report cards each year so parents can monitor their progress. Families deserve the same level of transparency and accountability from their children’s schools. Unfortunately, many of our schools are failing our students in critical subject areas like reading and math, but empowering parents with more information will drive improvement across the state. Where schools are succeeding, they deserve the credit.

That’s why lawmakers last December approved a new reform to hold the state’s schools as accountable to parents as our schools hold students for their work.

It’s an innovative approach to school accountability, and it’s designed to foster transparency and spur local growth. Parents count on our schools to prepare their kids for college, careers, and a brighter future. They also pay for the privilege, pumping thousands of dollars per pupil each year into our public schools.

Families deserve to know how their schools are performing.

The truth is, we’ve all got our work cut out for us. According to the National Assessment for Education Progress, Michigan ranks 35th in the nation on fourth-grade reading and 38th on 4th grade math. The numbers aren’t much better in 8th grade, where the state ranks 33rd in math and 30th in reading. Michigan is last among Midwest states in every category. Improvement can only begin with an understanding of how each school performs for our kids.

It is important to understand that this isn’t just a problem in our urban or economically disadvantaged communities. This is a problem across Michigan, including our “good” suburban school districts. Parents deserve the truth about school performance and with that information can demand better results for their students.

Each year, the state has pumped millions more into the school aid fund. USA Today recently ranked Michigan as one of the top states in America to teach, with public school teachers the 9th highest paid in the nation.

That investment is great, and more may be needed, but parents deserve to know what it’s producing. School report cards are a critical new transparency tool to empower parents and spur growth, but now at the eleventh hour, the Michigan Department of Education is standing in the way.

The Department is required by law to develop the system for assigning and delivering the grades by Aug. 1, a month ahead of their due date to parents. That deadline is only days away, and thus far, the Department has dragged its feet. Without quick action, parents will be kept in the dark.

Parents and reformers across Michigan are demanding the Department comply with state law, and provide parents with the transparency they deserve. As lawmakers work through the summer, we’re encouraging them to hold the Department accountable, as well.

Beth DeShone is the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project

The Truth About Charter Schools and K-12 Education in Michigan

Remarks by GLEP’s Gary Naeyaert at the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy at Albion College | February 27, 2017

  • Despite $14 billion/year investment in K-12, academic performance is lacking
    • Less than 50% of students are proficient in any grade or any subject on M-STEP
    • Less than 20% of high school juniors are “college and career-ready” per ACT
    • One of few states where 4th Grade reading proficiency has DECLINED in 10 years

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