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Bill would hold back third-graders if they don't pass MEAP reading test

Ohanian Comment; The really really troubling thing here is that people exhibiting such ignorance are in a position to pass laws. I feel great rage against these people who are so smug in their pronouncements that will be so harmful to children. There is considerable research against retention, as this comment at the Detroit Free Press points out.

Kim Oakden-St Martin comment:
I hope our law makers are reviewing literature that has synthesized several meta-analyses that have studied the effects of retention on overall student achievement. John Hattie has synthesized the research and has been an expert witness for a U.S. Supreme Court case involving retention. Retention has an effect size of -.16. This is one area in education where there really isn't a published study that has pointed to retention even having a zero effect let alone a positive one on student achievement. Studies have indicated that 80% of the students who are retained are boys as well as, 70-80% of kids who are retained are African American. Studies have also indicated that retention increases the likelihood students will dropout of school. The issue with retention is typically an issue of "more." Many believe if teachers have more time with the students then they will improve. The issue isn't one of "more" it is one of "different." Kids who are struggling learners need a continuum of evidence-based supports that increases in intensity and identifies their areas of strength and need in an on-going way. A Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) model will help give struggling students "different" and not more of the same.

By Lori Higgins

Third-graders who don't pass the reading portion of the MEAP exam would be held back a year, under a bill introduced in the Legislature this week.

If the bill were in place this year, it would mean as many as 36,663 children would have to repeat the third grade because they scored in the bottom two levels of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam in fall 2012. If it passes the Legislature, the mandate would take effect for the 2014-15 school year.

The bill's author, Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, said during a House Education Committee meeting this morning that she hopes the bill will ensure students have the same enjoyment of reading she has.

"Reading proficiency is one of the most important measures in public education, and it's time we make this a top priority," Price said.

Christy Hovanetz, a senior policy fellow at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a Florida-based nonprofit focused on what she described as innovative education reform, said 32 other states already have some sort of K-3 reading promotion policy in place. But she said some states have provisions that allow more flexibility than what the Michigan bill is considering.

In some states, for instance, third-graders who fail the state exam can demonstrate proficiency in other ways. Students in year one or two of learning English also aren't held to the same rules as native speakers, she said. And some states limit how many years a student can be held back, over concerns that students "will end up driving to third grade," Hovanetz said.

An analysis by the House Fiscal Agency said the bill could result in higher costs to the state and school districts because it would increase the number of students in districts. Those students, once retained, likely would end up spending an extra year in school.

The committee didn't take action on the bill today; it likely will come up for discussion at upcoming committee meetings. But it did spark strong debate among committee members.

Rep. Theresa Abed, D-Grand Ledge, said the third-grade mandate is reminiscent of the key goal of the federal No Child Left Behind law that is widely considered unrealistic: that all children be proficient in reading and math.

"Here we go setting another standard for third grade. . . when we know that children are developmentally different," Abed said.

She said she's concerned that holding back students will hurt them.

But Hovanetz said more harm comes from moving students through the grades when they can't read. Many experts say that in the early grades, students are learning to read, but after third grade, they are reading to learn. If they can't read by the end of third grade, it will impact their ability to understand other subjects.

"We've got to have high expectations for our kids," Hovanetz said.

Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, said there should be no question that students should be able to read by the end of third grade.

"I'm just amazed that this could be so controversial," Lund said.

Rep. Thomas Stallworth, D-Detroit, described the debate as "provocative, but critical," saying it's particularly so for him because of the high rate of functional illiteracy in his district.

"We're graduating kids that can't read. I don't know what the answer is. But I know it's a problem," Stallworth said.

Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said she understands the importance of achieving reading proficiency in third grade. But she wondered whether third grade is too late to have such a hard-line policy.

Price said she hopes the bill will encourage schools to provide more services and attention to struggling kids in kindergarten, first and second grades, "so by the time kids get to third grade, they will be more prepared."

Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651 or lhiggins@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @LoriAHiggins.

— Lori Higgins
Detroit Free Press





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