New law to ensure MI students can read by 3rd grade


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Students will be heading back to school soon and for those entering the third grade, there will be a bit more pressure to be reading proficiently by spring 2020.

The Read By Grade Three Law, which goes into effect later this month, outlines the process in which students will be retained or held back if they cannot read proficiently by the end of the third grade. 

It’s the legislatures solution to trying to ensure that all Michigan students can read proficiently by grade three. 

The Michigan Department of Education says the third grade is an important crossroads, and for William DiSessa the law is a no brainer.

“To me it’s simple,” DiSessa said. “If you’re a student who is not proficient in something that is so important through their entire educationally development, then they need to become proficient.”

Proficiency will be measured by the M-STEP test students are obligated to take during their spring semester. The test’s language arts portion will serve as an indicator as to how well students can read. 

“Third grade is that milestone. That very critical time when, you know, you try to assess where students are at because they have been learning up to that point,” DiSessa said. “They’re learning to read through kindergarten and up, first and second, third grade. And ideally at that point, third grade they are reading to learn.”

Mary Bouwense taught special needs students for thirty years. Today she represents nearly 2,000 educators from the Grand Rapids School District who say the law, which if enforced last year would have resulted in the retention of nearly 5,000 students, is out of touch.

“When you have people that aren’t educators making education policy, you do see the gaps in what really happens and what is happening with the students,” Bouwense said. “I know this is only for students who fall below a certain threshold in their scoring, but in an urban district like this, that’s the bulk of the class.”

Students will be given not proficient, partially proficient, proficient and advanced scores. Those who place below the proficient mark will either be given literacy coaches or held back.

“The whole idea of the Read by Grade Three Law is to provide support and interventions,” DiSessa said. “So, students can be brought up to speed, ideally, timely, without having any retention.”

Bouwense argues retention is not the answer, but literacy coaches and time could help. 

“The thing is these students will have already failed third grade,” Bouwense said. “It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity to expect that one more year of that is going to make a difference. Unless you do something different, it may not change the outcome.”

The law goes into effect statewide this school year. Students who fail to proficiently read by the spring 2020 will be held back the following year.

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