Michigan House OKs bill to hold back struggling third graders

Reading proficiently could determine if students advance to fourth grade

BIG RAPIDS — School districts may have an added stress to their already demanding schedules now that the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill requiring teachers to hold back third graders who struggle with reading proficiency.

On Oct. 15, the House approved the bill and if it is passed by the Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder, the new rules would take affect for the 2019-20 school year.

“Everything we are hearing from Lansing has us believing this bill will pass, so it’s time to get our ducks in a row,” said Tonya Harrison, Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School director of general education.

To pass third grade, students would need to be at a third-grade reading level. If they were one grade level below third grade in reading proficiency or more, they would be held back.

Some students could be an exception to this law such as those with learning disabilities, students with English as their second language or those who may have been previously held back despite receiving intensive reading help.

According to Harrison, studies show students who are not proficient in reading by third grade will continue to struggle. After third grade, teachers start teaching subjects more in-depth and focus less on specific reading instruction.

“I think research shows retention isn’t always the best way to help a student be successful,” she said. “You are putting unwanted stress on teachers and school districts already working very hard.”

Although Harrison does not agree with the bill, she does see a positive side to it.

“I think this is an eye opener for us. We need to make sure we are doing everything we can in kindergarten through third grade classrooms to promote reading and literacy,” she said. “Studies show students who can read at grade level will be much more successful in school and later in life.”

Teri Ouderkirk, a mother of a kindergarten student at Brookside Elementary School, does not support the bill saying students should be targeted on reading retention before third grade.

“I don’t agree with the bill. I want the school to help students who may be struggling sooner than third grade,” she said. “Schools should offer after-school tutoring so by third grade that student doesn’t have to fail. If they are still struggling, put them through summer school so they can move on to fourth-grade. If they are in third grade and struggling, it’s too late. Hold them in kindergarten.”