Governor Rick Snyder held a press conference last week to announce a new third-grade reading initiative that was approved by the legislature as part of the state’s 2016 budget. The initiative’s goal is for Michigan third graders to be the most improved group in the U.S. in reading within five years, and leading the nation in reading proficiency by 2025. This effort comes in response to a report stating that 70% of Michigan’s fourth graders were proficient in reading, based on the state’s MEAP test from 2013-2014, but on the national NAEP test, which is based on higher standards, only 30% of Michigan fourth graders scored at the proficient level. This result ranked Michigan 40thin the nation in third-grade reading. The Third-Grade Reading Workgroup, commissioned by Snyder, made the following recommendations in its report, which will be implemented as part of the 2016 budget:
· Use of research-based diagnostic and screening instruments, instruction, and interventions (progress will not be assessed by standardized tests, but rather with short, one-to-one, teacher-administered diagnostic instruments)
· K-3 students will receive 90 minutes of literacy instruction daily
· Every ISD must have at least one literacy coach and every district must have at least one reading specialist
· Professional development for teachers and administrators on diagnostic-driven instructional methods and best practices
· A “smart promotion” policy for K-3—based on a successful system implemented in Florida—that provides “intensive, targeted interventions” in literacy to students who are one or more years behind grade level, while allowing them to continue at grade level in other subjects in which they are proficient. Students will also have opportunities throughout the school year to demonstrate proficiency and be promoted from the intervention to rejoin their grade-level peers.
The potentially devastating economic and social consequences of failing to address this state-wide deficiency are outlined in the report, which cites research correlating reading proficiency in third grade with on-time high school graduation, employment, higher wages, living above the poverty line, and staying out of prison. Because of the linkage between these critical outcomes and third-grade reading levels, the report concludes, it is imperative that the state intervene quickly and decisively to address the issue.