What’s Next for Third Grade Reading

June 22, 2015 – Governor Snyder’s Third Grade Reading Workgroup recently released its recommendations to improve Michigan’s lagging third grade reading scores. While almost every other state has seen reading proficiency rise, Michigan’s reading proficiency has steadily declined for the past 12 years. This troubling trend is even worse for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and students struggling with other big challenges like homelessness – all of whom are falling even more behind in their reading abilities.

For the academic success of all children and our state’s prosperity, we must do better.

To this end, Michigan’s Children is pleased to see much-needed, statewide attention on this critical benchmark for children’s learning. Failing to read proficiently by the end of third grade will lead to continued struggles in the classroom and long-term implications for students’ educational success.

The Third Grade Reading Workgroup provides a series of recommendations focused on the following strategies:

  • identify students who need reading support and then provide appropriate interventions,
  • ensure teachers have the tools they need to provide adequate literacy instruction,
  • give parents the information they need to support their children’s literacy,
  • implement a smart promotion strategy for kids as their learning progresses, and
  • have adequate data to track our state’s success.

It’s timely that many of these strategies are supported by new investments in the state’s fiscal year 2015-2016 education omnibus budget that the Legislature approved earlier this month.

However, we must point out that the Workgroup’s recommendations don’t go far enough, particularly in assisting the most challenged students. To build upon the Workgroup’s recommendations, we should consider the following.

Let’s start with the focus on parents. We know that gaps in early literacy can emerge as early as nine months of age and that parents are responsible for their children’s early learning skills. The Workgroup’s recommendations identify parent coaching and support through home visits and parent-child classes as great tools to assist parents in their child’s development. But what can we do for the parents who struggle to read? Young learners will face more literacy hardships if their parents cannot support them through their reading journey. For this purpose, the state’s $3 million expansion in adult education for FY2016 is a necessary step towards addressing parent support and early literacy, which Michigan’s Children applauds. And, we need more and better investments that support two-generation family literacy programs to effectively increase literacy for both parents and their children if we want to see ongoing improvements to the state’s third grade reading scores.

Additionally, Michigan needs to better support kids and families served by Early On. Early On provides parents of infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities with early intervention services and tools to help their young children’s development. Adequate services can help many children develop skills at a level equal to their peers by age three. In fact, 40 percent of infants and toddlers who receive appropriate early intervention services do not need special education at preschool and kindergarten entry. It’s clear that Early On makes a huge difference in child development, but Michigan continues to be in the minority of states that fails to invest in Early On, leaving many students trailing when they enter kindergarten. This must change.

A huge step in the right direct is the inclusion of a $17.5 million initiative in FY2016 to provide additional learning time for students in grades K-3 who lack reading skills. But, for these funds to have the greatest impact, they must be applied to best-practices modeled by the federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program designed for high-poverty, low-performing schools. Through partnerships with schools and community-based groups, it provides enhanced before-school, after-school and summer-learning opportunities that have proven to increase student performance in reading and math, increase student participation and engagement in their education, and promote students’ development in other areas needed for success in school and life.

We must take advantage of the Governor and Legislature’s focus to improve literacy by building upon that momentum to ensure that all Michigan children are reading proficiently.  Won’t you join us in those efforts?

– Mina Hong

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine on June 16, 2015.