What Does Michigan’s New 3rd Grade Reading Law Mean for Your Kids?

Be prepared for changes that affect how your school district works to improve 3rd grade reading skills.

As kids head back to school, parents in metro Detroit and all of Michigan should be aware of a new 3rd grade reading law that will change how local districts work to boost student literacy.

The new 3rd grade reading regulation, which passed in October 2016, will be in effect this year. Its most controversial element, though – which would hold some third grade students with reading deficiencies back from moving on to fourth grade – won’t take effect until the 2019-20 school year.

Improving early literacy is a priority for the state. According to a recent MLive.com article about the new 3rd grade reading law, less than 50 percent of third graders in Michigan scored proficient or higher on the M-STEP test in 2015-16.

Here’s a look at what the new law could mean for your kids. For more details, check out the Michigan Department of Education’s latest frequently asked questions page about the 3rd grade reading law or contact your local school district for information.

1. Reading assessments

All kids will be assessed for reading three times per year, with the first benchmark assessment taking place within the first 30 days of school.

Recognizing that the increased testing might be difficult for some students, the state notes that a minimum of two assessments can be used in some cases for the 2017-18 school year.

“If a district finds it in the best interest of the student to only receive the initial assessment twice, the department will approve this action,” the Michigan Department of Education notes.

2. Intervention plans

Third grade students who are found to have a deficit in reading – defined, in part, as “scoring below grade level, or being determined to be at-risk of reading failure” – will be given an Individual Reading Improvement Plan within 30 days of having the deficiency identified.

The plan will describe the intervention services that the student needs to “remedy the reading deficiency.” According to the Michigan Education Association, intervention services could include small group and one-on-one intervention time with a specialist, more partnership with parents for at-home reading, and summer camps “using teachers rated as highly effective.”

3. Support for all kids with deficiencies

Children with the greatest needs won’t be prioritized for interventions above other 3rd grade reading students with deficiencies, according to the state.

“The reading legislation states that any student who exhibits a reading deficiency at any time must be provided with an Individual Reading Improvement Plan within 30 days,” the Michigan Department of Education explains. “This language clarifies that all students demonstrating deficiencies must be served.”

4. Risk of retention

Starting with the 2019-20 school year, students who are one grade level or more behind in reading on their state assessment will be retained instead of advancing to fourth grade. But if parents disagree with their child being held back, they can meet with school officials and request a “good cause exemption” within 30 days of getting the notice.

District superintendents will review exemption requests and determine if an exemption is “in the best interests of the pupil,” according to the state.

5. IEP vs. IRIP

Parents of children with special needs should know that students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are not exempt from the 3rd grade reading law or the potential need for an Individual Reading Improvement Plan. But the IRIP “may reference a student’s IEP, if necessary.”

6. Opting out

What if parents disagree with the new 3rd grade reading law or how it’s implemented at their child’s school? The Michigan Department of Education notes on its website that “the law does not provide an opt-out process.”

“Districts and PSAs (public school academics) are encouraged to maintain communication with parents and guardians about their student’s reading progress and plan,” and districts must document their efforts to engage parents in the process and whether it was successful, the state explains. “They are also required to document any dissenting opinions expressed by school personnel or a parent or guardian concerning the individual reading improvement plan.”

What do you think about Michigan’s new law regarding 3rd grade reading? Tell us in the comments.

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