Third grade reading initiatives must include reducing poverty

Added June 15th, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

In March, following his budget recommendation to invest $48.9 million towards a comprehensive state plan to improve third grade reading, Gov. Snyder created a workgroup to study the issue and develop recommendations. The bipartisan group released its report last week and should be commended for identifying strategies that recognize the importance of early childhood development, connect the issue to poverty, and realize the role that parents play, plus they seem to have abandoned the idea that retention policies are helpful.

Michigan is one of only five states to lose ground on reading proficiency over a decade beginning in 2003—almost every other state saw improvements in the number of students reading proficiently. Because reading at grade level by the end of third grade is such an important benchmark for future academic achievement, and very connected to the development of our future workforce and economic growth, leaders across the state have spent the last several years discussing solutions.

Most states already have taken steps to improve reading using a comprehensive approach with early identification and intervention—some of these strategies adopted to improve literacy begin at birth. Similarly, the governor’s workgroup on third grade reading outlined five strategies that include:

  1. Targeting Instruction and Intervention: Using research-supported diagnostic and screening instruments, instruction, and intervention with students. This would include a minimum of 90-minutes of dedicated reading time during the school day and the use of certified reading specialists and literacy coaches to support teachers and students.
  2. Preparing and Supporting Teachers to Teach Reading: Training educators to use diagnostic-driven methods with knowledge and fidelity by ensuring that all teachers and teacher candidates have the experience and instruction to be effective using the tools to identify the correct intervention strategies and keeping on top of best practices.
  3. Engaging Parents and Families in Early Literacy and School Readiness: Informing and supporting parents to develop early literacy skills in their children and to parent effectively, and ensuring that there are adequate home-supports for every child. The workgroup also recommended allocating additional targeted funding to help developing infants and toddlers and to pilot a parent education program in each Prosperity District.
  4. Implementing K-3 Smart Promotion Policy: Providing additional time for K-3 students who are behind in reading, with additional time and interventions while allowing them to advance in the other subject areas in which they are proficient.
  5. Collecting Data, Measuring, and Reporting: Providing accurate data on students and school growth and proficiency compared with other states, and developing an annual report on progress towards the goal of having the highest early reading proficiency in the nation. The workgroup suggests the use of a kindergarten initial diagnostic instrument for early identification and targeted interventions; the adoption of an existing, research-based tool to measure the state’s progress against other states; and, the establishment of an independent oversight commission to provide an annual report on progress.

The state budget is the most significant indication of a state’s priorities, and supporting early literacy and interventions to ensure grade level reading is clearly valued. In the upcoming budget year, there is $31.5 million for the third-grade reading initiative and child care enhancements as recommended by the governor. This is a great first step to addressing early literacy and supporting young children starting at birth. However, what’s clear is that there is still work to be done to help policymakers understand the connection to poverty—although the workgroup acknowledges the role it plays in early literacy and education. We continue to see disinvestments in safety net and prevention programs that serve our most vulnerable. Last week, the governor signed into law a bill to terminate cash assistance for families with children who are considered truant under the guise of improving school attendance rather than addressing the real barriers. And, the state House approved a bill to eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, essentially paving the roads on the backs of the working poor. These are only two examples of recent policies that hurt families—and children’s chances of academic achievement—and drive up poverty.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

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