Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Read or Flunk" is back

In 2013 we wrote quite a lot about a package of bills which proponents called "third grade reading retention" bills and critics called "read or flunk."  The gist of the legislation is that third graders would have to pass a standardized reading test or they would be held back.  The bills fizzled in 2013 but are back and rolling through the legislature.

To catch you up, here are our previous stories:

The bill, now HB 4822, has only two exceptions: "special education students who aren't able to take the state exam, a special education student who has already received intensive intervention in reading but is still struggling, and a student who has had less than three years of instruction in a program for students who have limited English speaking skills.", October 15, 2015. All others are subject to the mandate that they pass a standardized test or repeat third grade.  Michigan has moved on to a new standardized test, the M-STEP, so it's unclear how many children would be impacted.  However, under any existing test a great number would be impacted:
During the 2013-14 school year, 30% of the fourth-graders who took the now-defunct MEAP exam failed it. The fourth-grade exam tests third-grade material. Meanwhile, on a more rigorous national exam — the National Assessment of Educational Progress — nearly 70% of Michigan's fourth-graders were not proficient. [Id.]
HB 4822 passed the House in a mostly party-line vote, 57-48.  Among the most stunning no votes was original co-sponsor Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor.  Rep. Zemke asked his name be removed from the bill:
"This bill, without that amendment, then tells Johnny none of that (work) matters," Zemke said. "We're going to hold you back regardless. I am not going to remove the hope of a 9-year-old, period." [, October 15, 2015.]
We contacted Deputy Superintend Trelstad to see if her opinion of HB 4822 differs from her opinion of previous bills.  She said her opinion is the same and encouraged us to refer folks to the excellent Q and A she did in 2013.  
Q: There is some intuitive appeal to tying promotion from 3rd grade to an objective benchmark like a score on a standardized reading test.  Do you see problems with this approach?
A: Those of us who work with children on a daily basis know the limitations of utilizing one assessment measure to determine the full picture of a student’s academic skills.  Given the complexity of reading and the multiple skills that are involved in becoming a fluent reader, it is critical that we use multiple measures to assess a student’s on-going growth and development.
. . .
Q: If HB [4822] becomes law, what positives/negatives will OPS students experience?
A: The biggest negative is that teachers and parents will be forced to retain students who might be negatively affected in the long-term by such a decision.  There are no positives that I can see.
. . .
Q: Do you think there is one policy regarding retention that makes sense for all Michigan schools (big, medium, small; rural, suburban, urban)?
A: This “one size fits all” policy, dictated by Michigan law would be inappropriate and ineffective for grade retention.  As mentioned previously, the responsibility for making decisions about grade retention should held by the parents and educators of the individual students being considered.
Q: If the Legislature asked you what it could do to help kids read satisfactorily by the end of third grade, what would you say?
A: The legislature might consider providing more funding for the things that can truly make differences…instructional coaches, staff to deliver interventions, software to track and analyze student achievement data, intervention materials, and summer programming.  They could set the expectation that each district establish a multi-tiered system of support for all students and provide adequate funding to accomplish it. [Okemos Parents for Schools, November 16, 2013.]
Okemos Parents for Schools opposes HB 4822.  We encourage you to reread the entire Q and A with Deputy Superintendent Trelstad.  We will try to alert you if HB 4822 moves in the Senate. 

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