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Snyder signs third grade reading bill to boost scores

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Third-graders who can’t meet state reading requirement standards could be held back a grade under legislation Gov. Rick Snyder signed Thursday.

The new law could stop third-grade kids from moving to the fourth grade if they read a grade level behind their peers, although certain exemptions can apply that would let kids move up a grade even if they didn’t meet required test schools, according to the bill the Legislature sent to Snyder in late September.

“This is a chance for us to also catch up,” Snyder said after a bill-signing ceremony complete with a slew of fourth graders sitting in front of the governor in the Capitol rotunda. “When you have roughly half the kids not reading at the level you’d like to see them on the test, there’s a need to do something. And that’s what this is all about.”

Under half — 46 percent — of Michigan third-graders were proficient in English on the 2016 M-STEP test. About 50 percent were proficient in 2015.

Third-grade reading helps predict whether a student will do well in school in the future, experts say.

Before third grade, Snyder said kids are learning to read. But after third grade, they’re “reading to learn,” so it’s critical that schools inculcate strong reading skills.

“And so this is a comprehensive program not just about third grade, but helping young people get the tools they need and helping our educators and parents with tools they can use to help these young people read better by third grade,” the governor said.

Snyder said the bill helps teachers get better information and would create “individualized reading plans” along with new “literacy coaches” to help kids who might be lagging behind.

It also provides for ways to let some kids move on to fourth grade even if they’re not meeting the required test scores.

One exemption would let some students move up to fourth grade if they take remedial reading classes and get a certain score on the math portion of the new state-mandated grade-school test called the M-STEP. But they also would have to do well enough in science and social studies to move through the pipeline, as outlined in the legislation

The bill would also let parents request an exemption for their kid to move to the fourth grade even if they’re struggling to read. A superintendent or their designee could approve that request.

The bill passed the House in September 60-47, mostly along party lines with Republicans in support, and the Senate approved it in a 25-10 vote about an hour later the same day.

Snyder created a workgroup in March of 2015 to peer into third-grade reading statistics and make policy recommendations meant to beef up kids’ readings scores. Those proposals weren’t released until June of that year. Similar bills stalled multiple times in the House and Senate before lawmakers hashed out a deal in September.