School districts gearing up for Michigan's 3rd grade 'flunk or pass' testing

Published: Feb. 3, 2020 at 7:20 PM EST
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This year's standardized tests are going to be more important than ever for thousands of students in Michigan.

A controversial law is now in effect, requiring third-graders to be held back if they don't meet state reading standards based on the M-STEP this spring.

Local school districts tell News 10 they've been preparing for this since the law passed in 2016 and they're ready to use exemptions offered.

Grand Ledge Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Bill Barnes said the district has offered a number of resources both inside and outside the classroom to prepare their students for this spring's test.

"It's really all hands on deck when it comes to reading because it's such an important fundamental skill for our kids," said Barnes.

The district has around 400 third graders and Barnes says only a small number of them currently don't meet state standards.

"Most of them are. We have a handful of kids that we have a little bit of work to do still. It's very few and again we have identified each of those students not just this year but every year that need extra help and we're ensuring that they are getting all of the support that they need to be successful," said Barnes.

He says they will make decisions on who will be held back on a case by case basis and use all the tools in their toolbox to prevent from failing students.

"We know that retention as an intervention is not successful. There are a lot of other supports that we need to provide students that ensure they are good readers when they move through school," said Barnes.

Those tools include reading interventionists, at-home reading plans, and a literacy coach.

Superintendent of Eaton Rapid's Public Schools Bill DeFrance said they're heading in the same direction.

"What we've been doing is talking to parents for the last two years. This school year we tried to simulate what would happen if we were at the end of the school year," said DeFrance. "We sent letters out to parents asking if they would like their student to be in a class where they could get some additional support."

That class runs every day after school.

DeFrance says around 5% of students fell below the state cut-off last year.

"We're trying to build supports that will help the student stay in their grade. That, in this case, it would be fourth grade and provide them some additional reading support that would continue to catch them up to get them on grade level," said DeFrance.

Superintendents have the option to exempt students from being held back a grade. Other exemptions would be special education students, students who have already been held back a grade, and English language learners.

Education policy expert Brian Gutman, with Education Trust-Midwest, said exactly who gets held back will likely depend on the school and resources available.

"Unfortunately, what we see and this isn't terribly surprising in Michigan, low-income students and students of color are far more likely to be impacted than their higher-income and white peers. It's a case of inequities that we see across grades and subjects in Michigan including in third-grade reading," said Gutman.

Education Trust-Midwest looks at the data of the law, analyzing how the breakdown is likely to be around students that are impacted and who will be flunked.

"Really, what we need to make sure from a funding standpoint and the programming that's happening within the schools and districts that we're using every tool in our toolbox that we're providing the resources that schools need to serve their students well and that we're expecting schools to use those resources well to meet the needs of their students," said Gutman.

Charlotte Public Schools is planning to utilize exemptions as well. They're also looking at non-academic factors such as homelessness, severe illness, or family trauma.

M-STEP testing begins late April to early May. Parents will be notified if their child is recommended for retention by June 1. They can file for an exemption within 30 days.

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