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Michigan’s “Third Grade Guarantee” law is a well-intentioned vow to ensure each child in the state is proficient in reading by the end of third grade, a benchmark experts say is a critical determining factor in a child’s future success.

It’s a great sentiment and opportunity to invest in teachers, a bold commitment to literacy and an acknowledgment of this important educational achievement.

But, with a staggering 83 percent of Detroit Public Schools third-graders currently falling behind in reading, the law is also on-track to be an empty promise — unless schools act now. Those who test too low don’t proceed to fourth-grade.

Though the 17 percent of DPS third graders testing at or above grade level improved 7 percent over last year — an encouraging figure, no doubt — if the law was enacted today, 83 percent (thousands of students) would still be retained.

That is catastrophic. Critical research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who couldn’t read proficiently by third grade were four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers. Other studies have found that students who are held back are 60 percent less likely to graduate, and have a higher chance of entering the prison system.

This is bad for students, and it puts an extreme financial burden on the state. Even worse, untapped potential in the abilities of our state’s children are already costing us: Amazon announced recently it was passing up Detroit for a lack of available talent.

We know the talent is here, but until an investment in our schools and teachers is made that reaps the rewards of that commitment, Amazon’s reasoning remains a stinging consequence.

Michigan’s third-grade reading bill outlines the need for literacy coaches, impactful professional development for teachers, early intervention and more parent involvement. We have a great opportunity to implement key, strategic changes to help students and teachers advance.

States that have worked to implement these proactive initiatives have seen some incredible results. Three years after the adoption of the law in Ohio, in 2015, 91.5 percent of third graders in Columbus passed Ohio’s proficiency testing, compared to only 63.9 percent in 2014. Ohio’s focus on prevention has paid off.

Schools must invest in teachers, and thereby students, by arming them with the tools needed to combat this alarming epidemic. Only then can the promise be fulfilled.

Jeanne Jeup is co-founder and president of The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.

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