The data is pretty clear and has been for decades: reading proficiency is one of the most significant indicators for having success in school. Many experts will argue it is the No. 1 ingredient and it would be hard to argue with them. Reading is the key to academic success at school. Over the past year, legislators have weighed in with their non-researched approach to supporting reading proficiency of third grade students — retention. The data is overwhelmingly against this concept, but yet it is one of the strategies boiling to the top. In the legislators’ defense, they don’t know better; it isn’t their area of expertise. The good news is: educators know the best ways to improve reading proficiency. We’ve just never been invited to the solution party!

Two months ago, the Intermediate School District (ISD) and local school leadership from Region III met to discuss real solutions to raising the bar. This region includes 10 ISDs from northern and west Michigan and includes the following counties — Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Ottawa counties. Even though Region III has one of the highest proficiency regional rates in the state, we know we can reach higher by working together.

Currently, Schools of Choice legislation encourages competition between schools to compete for every student, eliminating cooperation. What occurred next was unprecedented — districts decided to stop competing with each other and focus on “all kids” through a new Reading Now Network. If there is a great reading strategy which shows significant results at Weideman Elementary in Chip Hills, it should be shared with all schools from Evart to Allegan.

Debuting at 10 a.m. on March 28 at Kent ISD, the Reading Now Network is collecting all participating Region III Boards of Education resolutions to commit to sharing their secrets for reading success. Our local districts have joined this worthy cause and we will be keeping the public, parents, and business community posted on what they can do help us raise our proficiency rate at the third grade level from 68 percent to 80 percent over the next five years. Once that goal is achieved, we’ll keep moving the bar higher.

Collaboration will be the key to the network’s success. Next school year your local school will be focusing of this area and stopping by to ask how you can help them reach our goal would be greatly appreciated. Raising third grade reading excellence is something we can all agree on!

Dr. Finch can be reached at cfinch@moisd.org and followed on Twitter @CFinchMOISD