Article VIII (8) Section 1 of the Michigan constitution provides for the encouragement of education. The importance of having an educated populace cannot be overstated. Improving education is an issue that every Michigan legislator will have to consider. Increasing Michigan third-grade reading proficiency is one method of improving the Michigan education system. It is an important issue with many hurdles but it is not an invisible one. Michigan has worked on this issue in the past and this year Governor Rick Snyder has recognized it is an issue worth addressing.
According to the Michigan Department of Education only 70% of Michigan students are third-grade reading proficient. That means that 30% of students are not able to read at a third-grade level by the time they reach fourth-grade. A majority of that 30% comes from underprivileged groups.1
Importance of Third-grade Reading Proficiency:
The first decade of a human beings life is crucial for language learning. Capitalizing on these increased gains is key to advancing Michigan’s educational system. Literacy and reading comprehension touches all subjects and spares none of its' importance. Furthermore, a lack of reading proficiency at the end of third-grade tends to follow a student into high school and increases their likelihood of dropping out according to the AECF Double Jeopardy Report.
16% of children who are not proficient at reading by the fourth-grade do not graduate high school. Making them four-times more likely to not graduate than a proficient reader. The percentage likelihood of not graduating almost doubles for individuals who are poor and that percentage increases for minorities who are also poor.2 Increasing an individual's reading proficiency at a young age could yield benefits that would last them their entire lives.
General Hurdles to Third-Grade Reading Proficiency:
There are many challenges when it comes to ensuring a child can read at a third-grade level by fourth-grade. These challenges can affect students of all ages but are none less important to mention and arguably affect younger children more than older children. These challenges include, but are not limited to, truancy, poverty, and family and community dysfunction. These challenges also disproportionately affect underprivileged groups.
▪ Truancy: Intuitively, if children do not go to school, they miss opportunities to learn which would hurt their reading and other subject areas.
▪ Poverty: If children are distracted by hunger, hygiene, or clothing it will be difficult for them to focus on schooling.
▪ Family and Community: Children with family problems or that live in unsafe communities might find it hard to focus on schoolwork.
Fixing the above problems is important but will likely require legislation that does not specifically target third-grade proficiency.
Specific Hurdles to Third-Grade Reading Proficiency:
There are several unique challenges to ensuring third-grade reading proficiency. The most important is the lack of access to high-quality early education programs, a need for greater education funding, and the need for intervention strategies for kids who are struggling or on a path of not being proficient by fourth-grade.
▪ Methods: An obvious hurdle, but important, is the lack of strategies for targeting and improving third-grade reading proficiency. Established standards and effective methods are needed and those standards and methods need to be applied.
▪ Funding: This is arguably one of the strongest hurdles. With limited federal and state dollars and many programs competing for funding, under-funding of public schools, early-education programs, and intervention programs to ensure third-grade reading proficiency is a persistent problem.
▪ Early Education: Broad and consistent access to early-education programs could be instrumental in ensuring academic success and third-grade reading proficiency. However, not every child has access to these.
Fixing the above problems is important and legislation can likely target third-grade reading proficiency.
Third-grade reading proficiency as an issue is not new to the Michigan legislature. HB5111 introduced last session (2013-2014) would have required the retention of third-graders who were not proficient in reading. However, the bill never became law, in part due to strong opposition from educational organizations such as the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. They favored early intervention strategies instead of retention.
The Governor's Plan:
In Governor Rick Snyder's 2015 state-of-the-state address he acknowledged that a focus on third-grade reading is an important area for advancing education in Michigan. Governor Snyder's plan has two components. The first is working with and encouraging the Michigan legislature to tackle the issue of third-grade reading proficiency. The second component is to create a commission, outside of government, that represents all stakeholders. This commission would include philanthropy and business groups. The commission's task is to suggest means of increasing student reading test scores. The suggestions will likely include a focus on intervention programs as opposed to retention, which was the focus in the past.
1. Michigan Department of Education (2014). MDE Fast Facts 2013-2014. Retrieved from www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/MDE_Fast_Fact_379573_7.pdf
2. The Annie E. Casey Foundation (2013). Double Jeopardy. Retrieved from http://bridgemi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/DoubleJeopardyReport030812forweb.pdf