Sunday, October 18, 2015

High Stakes to a Whole New Level

"Sometimes, the most brilliant and intelligent minds
do not shine in standardized tests,
because they do not have standardized minds."
- Diane Ravitch

Roughly ten months ago I heard rumors that our Michigan Governor and the Legislature were looking to pass a law that would potentially hold back 3rd graders that were not reading at grade level.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment and doubt.  I thought, there is no way that could pass, what a ridiculous idea.  With that as my thought process I admittedly did not take my thoughts any further.  I truly believed it would die in the process.

Fast forward to the present.  The other morning I woke up at my usual early hour.  I let the dogs out, grabbed a blanket and my laptop and sat down to watch the news.  To my complete surprise I saw that the Michigan House of Representatives passed the 3rd grade Reading bill and now it is headed to the Michigan Senate.  The best way to sum up my reaction is to imagine that I'm a die hard Michigan Wolverine fan and I just watched our punter fumble away the game.  Hands on head, with mouth wide open, I would be saying, "What just happened?"  That is what I was thinking as I watched the news.  Did that just happen?

What is the bill that is now headed for the Michigan Senate?  We will call it "The Michigan 3rd Grade Reading Bill".  The bill is highlighted by these statements:
  • would prohibit schools from promoting students to fourth grade if they are at least a full grade-level behind in reading
  • reading proficiency would be determined by scores on a state standardized test
  • calls for a series of early screening and intervention strategies
  • requires that schools begin assessing students in kindergarten
  • hire literacy coaches to train staff

Let me state that I do believe the most critical component to student success is a strong ability to read.  Essentially, if you cannot read you will always be playing from behind.  

Here are my problems with the 3rd grade reading bill: 
  1. The determining factor will be a student's score on a standardized test.  Really?  Have we not learned anything? Standardized tests are are not a valid representation of a student's ability. The tests are too long, biased, often dependent on prior experiences, and extremely stressful to our students.
  2. Where will the funding come from for these so-called interventions?  School after school around the country has implemented some sort of intervention program, but most have paid for these programs out of the general fund.  If our Michigan Legislature passes this bill they should be ready to pony up additional funding for such programs.
  3. Retention is not the answer.  I saw one quote from Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. "But for those concerned with retention, my response is this: I'd rather hold a child back for one grade than hold a child back for life."  That is your stance?  I ask you Lee Chatfield, have you looked at the research on retention?  Have you looked at the data and correlation of data on retention and drop out rate?  If you have not, here is an article to help you get started: What research says about grade retention...
  4. Michigan is not the first state to attempt to make this a law.  In all, sixteen states have some form of law about 3rd grade reading levels.  I would call this a sample set to learn from.  I ask our legislature, have you contacted other states?  Have you learned from their missteps?  Here are three examples worth researching more:
        1. Multiple studies and meta-analyses have found that students held back in a grade show academic and social problems later on, including being at higher risk for ultimately dropping out of school.
        2. "There isn't this magic age that, if you don't catch a kid by that age, you lose them forever," said Timothy Shanahan, a distinguished professor emeritus specializing in literacy research at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a lead writer of the common-core language arts standards.
        3. A separate analysis by the Education Commission of the States calculated that nationally, it costs an average of more than $10,000 to retain one student. If, for example, districts held back all the roughly 10,000 3rd graders who failed the reading portion of the Florida state tests in 2014, taxpayers would be on the hook for another $100 million.
Information and statistics gained from the following web articles: Should 3rd Grade be the Pivot Point for Reading?

Up to this point I have been staunchly against the 3rd grade reading bill.  I will now offer a better solution than the one being sent to the Michigan Senate.  As I stated earlier, literacy is essential.  It is a determining factor in student success.  I've read books by +Donalyn Miller and had several conversations with leading literacy educators from around the country.  Getting kids to love reading is by far and away the number one goal.

Instead of punishing a student for being behind, let's do this:
  1. Change the age date for students.  Currently students are not mandated to attend school until age 6.  I believe this should be adjusted to age 5.
  2. Put more funding into early childhood programs.  Many parents are forced to pay for preschool which then deters them from sending their child.  Creating programs that ALL families can afford is the best form of intervention.
  3. We should be screening students in kindergarten (at the end of kindergarten).  Students that do not have essential skills will be targeted for interventions in 1st grade.
  4. The Michigan Legislature needs to trust in local districts and county ISD's to assess reading skills.  The time has come to stop making Standardized Tests the end all, say all in education.
  5. If a child is not reading by the time they complete third grade there needs to be a summer program that involves both educators and families.  A child's success does not solely fall on a teacher's shoulders and it does not solely fall on a parent. This should be a shared responsibility to help the child.  A summer program will create a partnership where both educators and families invest their time.
My final thoughts are this:  For many years educators have been told about the detrimental effects of a student being held back, but now our own Michigan Legislature is proposing just that.  It feels very contradictory.  I hope that the Michigan Senate will shoot down this bill and then go back to the drawing board with different and viable solutions.  I urge you to contact your Michigan Senators and let them know how you feel.

How would you help struggling readers?  What would you suggest to lawmakers?


Monday, October 19th:  ISD training on 5D+ evaluation tool
Monday, October 19th:  Grades 1, 2 and 4 Curriculum Night (5:45 - 7:15pm)
Tuesday, October 20th:  Admin Meeting 9:15am
Tuesday, October 20th:  Fire Drill in the PM
Tuesday, October 20th:  String Team 3:30pm
Tuesday, October 20th:  Nutrition Meeting at 3:45 
Wednesday, October 21st:  8:45am Assembly with grades 3-5
Wednesday, October 21st:  Visit from Adrian Public Schools Admin Team AM only
Wednesday, October 21st:  PLC early release, grade level meetings on new Pivot tool
Thursday, October 22nd:  4th grade to Indian Brook Farms
Friday, October 23rd:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Brugger's classroom

Articles Worth Reading:

Teachers Who Bully @SimplyKinder

The night before tomorrow @JonHarper70bd

Pedagogy First @GustafsonBrad

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious!  I must up my game on the morning announcements. (4 min) @jimmyfallon

Fantastic Ted Talk by @MrsDelz (13 min)

#30SecondTake (5 min) @GustafsonBrad


  1. Ben,

    This bill is very troubling to me as well. Like you, I was shocked that it made it pass the house. Each year, I share with my staff the research on the negative impact of retention on students and I think our legislators need to review this as well. Yes, I support reading intervention and early childhood programs, but retention based on standardized tests is NOT the solution. Thanks for sharing.