For the first time next school year, Michigan will use state tests for third graders to determine who is more than a year behind in reading and may be required to repeat third grade.
Since the law’s passage in 2016, administrators and teachers in Dearborn Public Schools have worked diligently to ensure as few students as possible are held back. Reading instruction and extra assistance has increased for struggling students. Teacher training has become more focused, and additional summer and afterschool programs were added.
With that structure now in place, the district is asking parents and community members to become more involved through a new Read by Third Grade task force.
“The goal is to strengthen the planning process and to ensure that the community is informed and engaged in the success of every student,” said Jill Chochol, Executive Director of Student Achievement for the Edsel Ford High School feeder track. Chochol is spearheading the district’s Read by Third Grade initiative.
Parents who are interested in participating are encouraged to sign up for the committee here. Information on the law will also be posted on the District's new Read by Third Grade blog. Parents and others can subscribe to get updates as they are posted.
As the Read by Third Grade deadline draws closer, the complicated law is getting more discussion, and those community conversations are not always accurate.
The crux of the law is that all students who are a year or more behind in their reading level at the end of third grade to have to repeat that grade. However, the Michigan Department of Education has yet to define what it considers a year behind on reading level.
Retention recommendations will be based on the English language portion of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP). Only 44 percent of third graders scored proficient or higher on that test last spring. How many of the other 56 percent of students would have been recommended for retention is not known.
Under the law, to be promoted to fourth grade, a third grade student has to meet at least one of the following:
- Be less than a year behind in reading on the ELA portion on the state MSTEP
- Perform at third grade or better reading level on an alternate standardized test, yet to be designated by the state
- Have a portfolio with multiple work samples showing mastery of third-grade reading and writing standards
- Be proficient on the state math assessment and have a portfolio showcasing science and social studies work
- Be from a non-English speaking home and have received English language assistance for less than three years
- Have been in the district less than two years and did not have an individualized reading plan at the previous school
- Was previously retained a grade
- Has a disability identified in a 504 plan or has been identified with a disability and has an Individualized Education Plan.
For the last four points, parents would have to request a good cause exemption within 30 days of receiving the state letter that their child might be retained. Retention recommendation letters are supposed to go out by June 1 each year. Parents can also request an exemption on their own, which could be granted if the district agrees allowing the promotion would be in the student’s best interest.
Besides the retention rule, Public Law 306 of 2016 has a number of other requirements regarding teacher training, additional instruction for students and more. One provision requires students to be assessed in reading three times a year from kindergarten to third grade.
Students take M-STEP for the first time in third grade, so Dearborn Schools is using other tools such as the NWEA test and DRA reading levels to judge how students are doing in reading.
In Dearborn, intervention starts as early as kindergarten. Students who are the furthest behind get the most intense intervention with the most time and smallest groups of one to three students. Those who are not lagging as much also get extra intervention in small groups of four to six students.
Classroom teachers and dedicated reading specialists in each building provide the extra reading lessons.
The idea is that students need to grow more than one year in their skills for each year they are in school, Chochol explained.
"Teachers do an excellent job of ensuring that students grow during the school year, above the NWEA average, at helping students accelerate and close that gap,” Chochol said.
But, the schools cannot succeed alone.
Struggling students get an individualized reading instruction plan that spells out what the school will do and what the parent will do to support that such as ensuring the child comes to school, does homework, and reads for a certain number of minutes a day. Parents may also have to agree to send their child to recommended tutoring and summer school provided by the district.
But parents do not need a reading plan to help students succeed, Chochol said.
Parents can help simply by encouraging reading. That means reading to young children each day and reading in front of them to set the example. Encourage children to look at books, and, when they are able, to read on their own. Take them to the library and help them find good-fit books – ones not too easy or too difficult – on whatever topic that interests them.
Parents also can help by staying involved in their child’s school’s activities and volunteering for any that can fit into their schedules. Attend as many school events as possible, including all parent conferences. They should keep in touch regularly with their child’s teacher through email, teacher blog, or Class DoJo.
Parents can help by ensuring that their children not only complete their homework, but talk to their children about what they are learning, both in school and from the homework.
Parents can help by limiting their children’s exposure to screens: TV, movies, video games and use of other digital devices. Research shows the positive benefits of parents talking with children and engaging in other activities, including cooking, household chores, outside work and other home projects.
“As in all things, Dearborn Public Schools needs the support of families and the community to help us help students reach their full potential,” Chochol said. “We are looking for that support for individual students and as a community on the Read by Third Grade task force. Together, we will address the changes brought by this new law.”