2018-03-14 / Editorial

Reading matters in March, all year long

March is National Reading Month in the United States. Schools and public libraries across Lapeer County are commemorating the month with activities to mark the importance of reading and literacy. The County Press already this month has published numerous photos and stories of programs in local schools with more to follow the remainder of March.

Michigan’s elementary and middle school students are slowly making gains in math and social studies on the state’s standardized exam. That progress, however, is overshadowed by serious and troubling declines in reading — particularly at the third-grade level. Studies have shown that if students struggle to read in third grade they will likely have a difficult time in learning the other important school subjects going forward as they all depend on a child’s ability to read and comprehend the material before them. The declines in reading couldn’t come at a worse time, given the state is upping the stakes and requiring schools to hold back students whose performance indicates they’re not reading at grade level. Those rules kick in during the 2019-20 school year.

The Michigan Dept. of Education recently released the results of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-Step) exam. It’s frustrating because the disappointing news comes after Michigan has pumped nearly $80 million into boosting third-grade reading levels. Despite all that money, early reading skills went down. Analysis from The Education Trust- Midwest shows third-graders in Michigan are the last in the nation for early literacy, and we’re one of the few states actually losing ground in third-grade reading levels.

While it’s critical to fix the state’s patchwork approach to public education spending, The Education Trust-Midwest study indicates there needs to be more attention to classroom education practices to ensure instruction is not a crap-shoot from one classroom or school district to the next. There needs to be a cohesive strategy not left to chance depending what school district a student attends.

Educators need to adopt classroom best practices being utilized in areas that demonstrate better grade-level subject competency.

In October 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Michigan’s third grade reading law, which requires that third-grade students meet state-determined reading proficiency requirements in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. Specifically, students must either score within one grade-level of third-grade reading proficiency on the state assessment; demonstrate third-grade-level reading proficiency on an alternative standardized reading assessment or through a student portfolio; or receive a “good cause” exemption. Students may only be retained once for reading deficiencies.

Michigan’s third-grade reading law also requires districts to adopt reading assessment and intervention systems to support all students in grades K-3 in their progress towards proficiency. Under the law, families must be notified if their student is at risk of retention and be included in the creation of their student’s individual reading improvement plan. Additionally, Michigan’s third-grade reading law requires the Michigan Dept. of Education to develop a literacy coaching model. Early literacy coaches must provide targeted professional development to K-3 teachers around early literacy instruction, student data analysis, and differentiated instruction and intervention strategies.

While great teachers and effective classroom instruction is important, they’re not everything — not by a long shot. Reading starts at home. A child’s first and most important teachers are their parents. Children who are read to at home enjoy a substantial advantage over children who are not. Subsequently, children who read frequently develop stronger reading skills and studies show generally do better in life with a greater income likelihood.

March is Reading Month, though the importance of reading should be a year-long objective we must all pursue with children and adults alike to achieve a greater quality of life. Reading matters.

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