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House passes ‘Read by Grade Three’ repeal

Alexander Spatari

Michigan students would no longer have to repeat the third grade if they're not reading at grade level under a bill that passed the House Tuesday.

Instead, those students would receive extra help in future grades to help them get back on track.

State Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) chairs the House Education Committee. He said holding kids back doesn’t help them learn to read better.

“We’ve seen it in other states, and there is zero data from any other states that suggest retention is the way to go. We’ve got enough data to know it’s not working,” Koleszar told reporters after the vote, adding, “Often times disproportionately, it’s in communities of color that students are being retained.”

Michigan’s third grade reading law, dubbed "Read by Grade Three" passed in 2016. But because of pandemic-related delays, children didn’t begin facing retention under it until the 2020-21 school year.

During floor speeches in the House Tuesday, Rep. Brad Paquette (R-Berrien Springs) argued it was too soon to dismiss the retention element of the program.

“The data being still not available allows inference that there was a large percentage of learners deemed eligible for retention under this law, around 90-some percent that were not retained. And as they either took up one of the exemptions or were motivated to kick it into high gear,” Paquette said.

Numbers outlined by the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency indicate that only 545 out of the 5,680 students eligible for retention during the 2021-22 school year under the law were actually held back. The year prior, that number was 228 out of the 4,750 eligible students.

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