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Legislative report offers recommendations to increase third-grade reading levels

Jun 4, 2015

Credit Phil Dowsing Creative / Flickr

A legislative workgroup has released a report outlining ways to help Michigan students struggling with early literacy.

The Third Grade Reading Workgroup, which was created by Gov. Rick Snyder in March, recommends at least 90 minutes of diagnostic-driven, individualized reading instruction per day.

"I am proud that for the past several months, this group was able to set aside partisan differences in the name of putting forward constructive, holistic, forward-thinking policy to improve childhood literacy," Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, said in a press release about the report.

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook said the report does a good job of addressing longstanding concerns about literacy, but it won't guarantee legislators will heed its advice.

Of the $16 billion state education budget that's currently headed to the governor's desk, almost $30 million of it will go to third-grade reading initiatives, like increased instructional time and diagnostic tools.

Cook expressed concern that any subsequent legislation might emphasize holding back kids who aren't reading at grade level, a method discussed prior to the workgroup's report. The report's authors advocate a "smart-promotion" policy that allows students to move forward in subjects they're proficient in while being remediated in reading.

The report also notes a gap between national and state literacy standards.

At state levels (the MEAP test), 70% of third graders are considered to be reading at a "proficient level," but on national tests (the National Assessment of Educational Progress test) only 31% are. 

The exact level of literacy aside, these numbers only underline what teachers see every day, Cook said.

"Most teachers, had we ever been bothered to be asked, didn't need to be handed a research study that said 'Hey, the tests for your folks are lower than they should be," he said. "We already knew that."

Cook also said that it's vital that reading education begin early.

"At third grade that's a pivotal year," he said. "You have to start this early enough so that by third grade you've given a lot of these kids a fighting chance to be a successful reader."

– Paula Friedrich, Michigan Radio Newsroom