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‘Read by Grade Three’ reform on track for passage in the Senate

Child Reading
Child reading.

A bill to prevent Michigan 3rdgraders who struggle with reading from being held back could make it out of the Michigan Senate as soon as Wednesday.

The state’s "Read by Grade Three" law currently keeps children -- with a few exceptions -- from advancing to the fourth grade if they don’t meet certain reading benchmarks through standardized testing or work samples.

It aims to catch students who are falling behind and give them extra support. But some critics argue holding kids back is stigmatizing. They say it disproportionately affects students who are of color or lower income.

State Senator Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) said there are many good parts of that law she’d like to see expanded. Still, she has her reservations.

“The mass flunking is just riddled with problems that we’ve talked about in committee, and it was a bad idea then, it's a bad idea now. And hopefully we can repeal this bad idea,” she said.

Polehanki is the Senate bill’s sponsor. She also chairs the Senate Education Committee.

During the hearing process, some groups testified that advancing students who are behind on reading to the next grade level puts them at risk of falling further behind.

“The current retention policy serves to hold schools and parents accountable for developing proficient readers. Schools must make every effort to ensure that third-grade students develop the literacy skills necessary to be successful in fourth grade and behind,” Molly Macek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said in written testimony to the Senate Education Committee. “If this seems a hard line and a high standard, it is because early literacy is so important for students.”

Polehanki said children would still get the same level of reading resources and support under her bill. That would continue in the fourth grade instead of holding students back.

During procedural steps Tuesday, the Senate chamber adopted some changes to her original bill.

One would maintain a requirement dealing with parental notification of their child’s reading deficiency. It would also provide families with information about available resources.

Polehanki said that came from working with Republicans.

"We’ve been talking with our friends on the other side of the aisle and a couple of their ideas made sense, so we incorporated them and we’re really happy to have this kind of bipartisan approach on the very first bill coming out of the Senate Education Committee,” she told reporters.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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