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Reading retention bill heads to the Senate

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published October 28, 2015

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LANSING — A group of Michigan lawmakers are trying to pass a bill they feel would help strengthen the educational development of all Michigan children.

On Oct. 15, bill No. 4822 passed in the Michigan House of Representatives. The bill now goes to the Senate. If passed and then finally signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, the bill would mandate that students be retained in third grade if they are more than one grade level behind in reading.

The bill was written by Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township. She feels the initiative creates a proactive literacy system that is designed to help kindergarten through third-grade students become proficient in English language arts on their third-grade assessment before entering fourth grade.

“I think it will put a focus on getting kids up to grade level,” said Price, chair of the House Committee on Education. “Reading at that third-grade level really launches you into that educational career.”

Price said students would receive an assessment in kindergarten, first, second and third grade. The bill, if signed into law, would provide interventions for students who are behind in reading in those grades.

“I think they are going on in some school districts, but not all of them,” Price said. “At the end of third grade, if they are more than one grade level behind, they would be retained.”

That means the student would have to repeat the third grade.

Tim Kelly, R-94th District, which encompasses part of Saginaw County, also supports the bill and believes it will pass in the Senate.

“I’m dumbfounded that this is somehow a difficult vote for people,” Kelly said, adding that other reading attempts have failed. “This is the best one we’ve come up with.”

However, several Macomb County Democratic representatives — including John Chirkun, of Roseville, and Henry Yanez, of Sterling Heights — voted no on the bill. According to a Michigan House Democrats press release, the legislators disagreed with the bill because of the mandatory retention without parental consent. They feel the bill takes away local control and fails to provide enough resources to districts.

“This bill doesn’t consider the students who may be working hard and getting help, for whom it hasn’t quite clicked yet,” state Rep. Derek Miller, D-Warren, said in a prepared statement. “Data has shown that retention could discourage students and make it even harder for them to succeed in school.”

In an email, Center Line Public Schools Superintendent Eve Kaltz said she is “concerned about the retention clause” in the bill.

“The research I have read indicates that retention is not effective in and of itself in boosting achievement,” Kaltz said. “Strong early literacy instruction is essential for all children, and intervening early is imperative to ensure that our students are on the right track. I certainly believe that we continuously review student data and adjust the interventions that each child receives based on ongoing progress.”

Fitzgerald Public Schools Superintendent Barbara VanSweden is against the bill for several reasons.

“There is no research that supports the positive effects of retaining of kids for any reason,” VanSweden said. “Research does prove that there are many negative effects on students that are retained, such as an increase in dropouts, poor academic performance in future grades, and an increase in drug and alcohol abuse.

“The decision to retain students should not be at the hands of a law, but instead determined after the parent, teacher and principal review the entire academic profile of a student,” VanSweden said.

VanSweden also pointed out that students who “grow up in a poverty situation” need to be considered in the bill.

“If a student comes to us and the parent has had minimal financial resources and (their children) don’t have certain opportunities, that impacts their learning,” she said. “They start out behind their peers. It’s not to say the kids can’t learn. It takes them longer.”

VanSweden also is concerned about how such a law, if passed, would affect special education students with an individualized education program, the English Language Learners whose first language is not English, and also students with medical issues who might miss a lot of school.

“All these special situations aren’t accommodated in retaining kids if they are not proficient in reading in the third grade,” VanSweden said.

Price, however, said the bill’s language includes exceptions for such students and that they wouldn’t be held back.

“There are a lot of good-cause exemptions for children,” Price said. She added that “there are other ways a child can show proficiency” rather than on a standard assessment test.

Price said a student portfolio could be one method, or having the student take an alternative assessment.

“They are not going to be retained on one test alone,” Price said.

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