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Pending state law to boost literacy, may retain third graders deficient in reading

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LANSING, Mich. -- Some third graders in Michigan could be held back if they show they fell behind in reading at the end of the school year.

The Michigan legislature passed House Bill 4822 which has evolved since its original introduction in 2013. Now on its way to the governor's desk, it aims to raise statewide literacy for students: a notable issue after Michigan ranked 41 nationwide in reading according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Rep. Amanda Price, (R) Grand Haven, told FOX 17 this is not about retention.

“This is not about retaining kids, this is about getting kids the education they need early on, so they never have to be retained," said Price.

If signed into law this would require educators to assess students' reading progress three times a year in kindergarten through the third grade, beginning 30 days after the school year start. If a student shows deficiency that has to immediately be reported to parents, who would then be involved in carrying out an individual intervention with the school.

Ultimately, by the third grade, students must show reading proficiency either through the M-STEP, other school assessments, or the student's schoolwork portfolio. However, the language in the bill has evolved to include exemptions for retention for parents, students in special education, and English language learners.

John Helmholdt, Grand Rapids Public Schools' communications director, says retention should be a last resort.

"The data does not show that [retention] has a positive impact on student incomes," said Helmholdt, "but we believe that it does put a spotlight on third grade reading, that it’s already pushing districts to rethink how are we ensuring our children are proficient in third grade reading.”

Though Helmholdt still believes in pushing for pupil funding based on academic need, he says GRPS support the pending legislation because of the safeguards from interventions to exemptions that would now be in place.

“By and large I think Michigan is getting serious about literacy, this is one way to do it," said Helmholdt. "We’ve seen success in other state have had similar type programs  where they have really looked at the need to bolster the third grade reading.”

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