Alivia GIles National

Governor Whitmer repeals “Read by Third Grade” Law




On Friday, March 24, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that would repeal “Read by Grade Three,” a law that required third-grade students to be held back if their readings scores were too low.

Students’ parents will now be notified if their child’s reading scores are more than one grade level behind. Schools will be required to provide “reading intervention programs,” which may include at-home reading activities as well as additional classroom work.

“We are taking action to put power back into parents’ hands so they can work with their child’s teachers and make decisions that are best for their family,” said Whitmer. “Getting this done will offer parents more flexibility and ensure educators can focus on doing what they do best – helping students reach their full potential.”

The bill was passed in 2016 to fulfill policy requirements for the 2014 No Child Left Behind Act. Michigan was one of several states that created a third-grade reading law.

While the bill included multiple levels of support for third-grade students, the most controversial element of the bill was the requirement that students repeat the grade if they were one of more years behind in reading (as measured by the spring M-STEP assessment). 

Karen Carman is an Adjunct Instructor at Alma College. Having worked as an educator for 30 years, Carman has followed the process of instating and repealing the bill.  

“The idea of retaining students is controversial and not all states included it in their third-grade reading laws,” said Carman. “Research shows that students who do not master basic reading skills by third grade continue to struggle with reading in years to come.”

“Research also indicates that students who are retained are at a higher risk of dropping out of high school and have greater issues with their social-emotional status,” said Carman.

Carman believes eliminating the requirement for students to repeat the third grade due to low reading scores is a positive change but thinks that steps should be taken to provide elementary school children with a head-start. 

“Eliminating the retention provision of this law is a good idea, however, schools and parents must be especially proactive with early literacy support for students,” said Carman. “Universal preschool would be a great next step for our state.”

Field Instructor Kathleen Paul feels that repealing the law was the right decision. According to Paul, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on students’ progress in the classroom.

“We are finding that our students have regressed in knowledge of the basics, and we can’t hold them responsible for the Covid outbreak shutting schools and changing the learning scenarios of many,” said Paul.

“Covid has affected all in academic and emotional ways that we all are striving to combat and overcome,” said Paul. “All the teachers are dealing with behaviors that are more pronounced than before and if we can’t manage our classrooms, we cannot teach the students in that room.”

“Teachers are not taught how to teach online (including myself), and it was a new territory for all . . . It has been evident that the students are behind in reading comprehension and math facts,” said Paul. “The teachers have had to review and reteach in many areas – trying to catch our students up.”

Carman has also witnessed the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have on children in school. According to Carman, the lasting effects of the pandemic have been felt the most by students in lower-income communities.

“[Most important] is the fact the pandemic caused the achievement gap for students to widen especially impacting students of lower socio-economic status,” said Carman.

“Staffing is another issue. Schools are struggling to hire enough counselors, social workers, and school psychologists to support students in the area of mental health and enough interventionists and literacy coaches to support struggling readers.”

Paul feels that being a teacher is a difficult and often undervalued job; she is happy to see Governor Whitmer taking action to support Michigan educators.

“I believe our teachers are over-stressed, over-loaded and underpaid. They are working very hard to bring the students forward from where they are while dealing with the behaviors that are not conducive for academic settings.”

“I think that most teachers would agree with the governor’s decision based on the learning situations of the past two years,” said Paul. “It is what it is, and we go from there.  We are not giving up on our children because they are our future.

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