Superintendents, Rep. Johnson concerned with proposed third-grade retention bills (with poll)

Should a third-grader who does not achieve reading proficiency on the MEAP test be held back?

LANSING — A pair of bills proposed in the Michigan House of Representatives that would automatically hold back third-graders who were not proficient in reading per standardized test scores are raising eyebrows with local superintendents and Rep. Joel Johnson.

House Bills 5111 and 5144 are tie-barred together, meaning neither bill could go into effect unless they were both passed. HB 5111, which was introduced on Oct. 29 by Rep. Amanda Price, R-Holland, says beginning in the 2014-15 school year, any third-grade student who does not achieve proficiency on the state assessment could not advance to the fourth grade.

HB 5144 would require the Michigan Department of Education to adopt policies and programs aimed to help more students attain reading proficiency.

Au Gres-Sims Superintendent Jeff Collier called the bills “alarming,” because it does not give the parents of a non-proficient student a choice as to whether their child is retained.

“The piece that this does not take into account, which is alarming to me, it does not take into account parental choice or family choice,” he said. “It does not look at the social, physical or emotional needs of students.”

Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, said he does not approve of how the bill calls for a retention decision to be made by the state without the local district and parents weighing in.

“My first concern is that I believe the decision about whether or not to pass or fail a child has to be made with local input from the district and parents,” he said.

Standish-Sterling and Arenac Eastern Superintendent Darren Kroczaleski said there are multiple problems with the bills.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “The state’s going to pass a law that says any third grader that isn’t proficient on one test, that they’re going to be retained — one test to test reading. What if that student, hypothetically, scores very high on math? So now we’re going to hold a student back because they didn’t score high on reading, but they scored high on math?”

Gary Naeyart, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, an organization in support of the bills, was published Dec. 2 on Bridge Michigan’s website, Naeyart argued that the number of students failing to reach proficiency and the number of students not being held back did not add up.

“Today in Michigan, we’re investing $4 billion per year in K-3 education, yet nearly one-third of 3rd graders in Michigan are not proficient readers. According to recently released data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card, Michigan ranks 40th in the U.S. in 4th-grade reading literacy. In 2012, however, less than 1 percent of 3rd graders in the state were retained; that is, held back for a year,” he said in his commentary titled “Making early literacy a priority for Michigan.”

Naeyart said studies in New York and Florida, where retention laws have been passed, showed academic performance, students’ sense of belonging and confidence were all increased after the laws were implemented.

According to the House Fiscal Agency’s analysis on the tie-barred bills, HB 5111 would, over time, increase operating costs.

“The bill would create a larger third grade count, permanently increased by the number of retained students, and a single smaller cohort entering fourth grade in 2017-2018. By the time that smaller cohort graduates out, and the first retained third graders enter 12th grade (their 14th year of school) in 2026-2027, statewide enrollment would increase by the average number of students retained, thus increasing statewide school operating costs,” the analysis said.

The analyses said HB 5144 would increase costs for the MDE and local districts

“The bill would add to MDE costs through added responsibilities including providing additional assessments, recommended reading programs, and a pilot reading intervention program. It would require MDE to seek funding for the pilot program from private and public sources. Further, the bill specifies the Legislature is to appropriate funds from these sources, and from the School Aid Fund as necessary, for the pilot program or programs for the 2014-2015 fiscal year,” the analysis said. “The bill could also increase costs to local districts by requiring that districts use early screening instruments to identify reading delays, provide additional intervention tools to parents, provide intensive intervention programs for students identified with reading delays, provide additional assessment opportunities, and submit additional data to the MDE.”

Collier said he believes the bill would force the district to run programs without additional funding from the state.

“The bill that I have read to this point does not have any funding measures to help schools with that,” he said. “It would be unfunded — an unfunded mandate.”

Johnson said he believes school districts are burdened with enough regulations and mandates as it is, and creating more programs and policies at the state level would just add to the burden.

“I’d rather just not go there in the first place,” he said. “I think we’re sending down enough requirements in the first place at the federal and state level.”

Johnson said he has spoken about the bill to many people — including a successful attorney who told him he struggled with reading as a child — but were able to improve without being held back. Johnson said he, himself, ran into problems while testing as a child.

“I don’t remember ever finishing one of those tests,” he said. “I was a slow reader. I probably wouldn’t have been proficient.”

Kroczaleski said the bill seems impulsive.

“It almost seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to somewhere about third-graders not being proficient in reading,” he said. “So if it’s reading this year, will it be math next year?”

According to the HB 5111 analysis, based on 2012-13 Michigan Educational Assessment Program test results, about 37,750 third-graders would have been retained.

Locally, out of 141 students in third grade who tested last year, approximately 40 would have been held back, according to last year’s MEAP scores.


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