MSU study finds few Michigan third graders being held back under state’s reading law

A new Michigan State University study finds less than one percent of Michigan third graders were held back this year for failing to meet the state’s reading standard.

According to MSU researchers, of the students who participated, 76.1% (or 54.2% of all third-grade students) were eligible for promotion with no additional literacy support, while 19.1% (or 13.6% of all third-grade students) were eligible for promotion with additional, intensive literacy support recommended, and 4.8% (or 3.4% of all third-grade students) were eligible for retention.

But the report finds school districts intend to promote most retention-eligible students to the fourth grade through a variety of exemptions. Roughly 0.3% of Michigan third graders will repeat the grade under the reading law.

The law was created to make sure older students, who are expected to read to learn, don’t fall too far behind.

Katharine Strunk is the faculty director of MSU’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative. She says the data show a higher percentage of minority and poor students are being held back.

“That suggests that something is happening with those students are not able to get the same access to exemptions as other students,” said Strunk, “and if there are negative effects of retention and maybe falling disproportionately on Black and poor students.”

It is the first school year since the law passed that students were held back.

Strunk says this year is a “wild card” because of the disruption the COVID pandemic has caused schools.

Because of the pandemic, roughly 70% of Michigan third graders took the standardized M-STEP test.

“This year is sort of an indication of what might happen but we really need a kind of a typical year to understand what’s going to happen when that total population of Michigan third graders take the M-STEP,” said Strunk.

Implementation of the law was delayed by a year because of the pandemic.

Michigan’s third grade reading law is intended to improve reading scores and prevent kids from falling behind in later grade levels.

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