Michigan’s 3rd Grade Reading Law: A Harmful Solution to the Literacy Crisis

March 2019
Alexandrea Somers

Only one in two Michigan 3rd graders were proficient in reading at the end of 2015, according to the M-STEP, and this number is only decreasing (EdTrust Midwest, 2017). The MSTEP is the Michigan Student Test of Education Assessment, an annual standardized test for Michigan 3rd through 8th grade students intended to accurately measure student learning and achievement. Michigan is one of the few states with decreasing reading performance, which has sparked concern among stakeholders like researchers and policymakers who believe that students must stay at on grade level to be ready for lives as engaged citizens.

In 2016, the Michigan State Legislature passed HB 4822, also known as the 3rd grade reading law. This law created three major changes. First, effective immediately were two guaranteed years of funding to provide literacy coaches across the state. Over the two years, $80 million was spread across the state to encourage hiring more reading specialists. Second, the 3rd grade reading law created IRIPs, an Individualized Reading Intervention Plan for every student at-risk of scoring below proficiency on the year-end 3rd grade M-STEP.The IRIP is a twenty page template that teachers are expected to fill out for their students, which details a plan for how they will work with the student and family to bring the student up to grade level. Finally, and most disputed, is mandatory retention for all 3rd grade students who perform more than a grade level below on the M-STEP. Unless a studenth has an IEP, an Individual Education Plan for a learning disability, or is exempted by their school superintendent, every underperforming student will be held back.

Mandatory retention will not help Michigan students read better. Instead, it raises the stakes on the M-STEP without providing adequate resources to catch students up. In a educational system that does not effectively address the needs of low-income, minority, and English Language Learning students, holding them back as if they have the same opportunity as high SES students whose scores are also decreasin is unfairg. Mandatory retention is not an effective solution to low 3rd grade reading achievement. In fact, I argue that it is harmful, especially in the long run. I will discuss how the law came into existence in Michigan and compare it to other states. Based on this analysis, I recommend three different approaches to increasing reading achievement among Michigan students that do not rely on mandatory retention.