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News & Press: FOCUS

Why Should We All Care About Third Grade Reading?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017  
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By Sean Williams and Laura Colligan

The Center of Public Education research suggests, we learn to read through grade three, so after grade three we can read to learn. Reading is the key that unlocks the door to knowledge. Reading proficiently by the end of grade three has become a significant milestone in a student’s educational trajectory, as it marks the time when the focus is placed on reading to learn instead of learning to read. When the Michigan Legislature passed MCL 380.1280, which is now commonly known as the Third Grade Reading Law, many districts across Michigan let out a resounding gasp. However, Ingham ISD and Eaton RESA considered this an opportunity to bolster existing literacy systems and supports in local districts, some at Ingham ISD have been underway since 2009.

Research has also found that student performance in the third grade is a key predictor in whether or not the student will be career- and college-ready by high school graduation. Michigan’s grade four students currently rank 41st in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Only 13 years prior, Michigan ranked 28th on the NAEP. In response to this educational crisis, Michigan looked to both national research and the strategies other states employed to curb these major achievement deficits, and eventually targeted policies that made grade three the threshold for advancement based on literacy attainment. If students aren’t reading proficiently by grade three, they will not be allowed to advance to grade four unless there are special circumstances to be considered. The roots of the Third Grade Reading Law emanate from similar laws passed in Florida and New York that established grade three as essentially a “go, no-go” grade level in which students had to demonstrate proficiency of grade three content in order to be promoted to grade four.

As both the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives debated the exact structure and leverage point of a Michigan version of the law, they reached a compromise that established grade three as the threshold to further grade-level advancement. Secondly and more importantly, this compromise established guidelines and supports that schools would need to meet to ensure students had the necessary skills to advance beyond grade three. This year’s grade one students are the first group of students that will be impacted by the legislative changes.

What are schools doing to support students and the third grade reading legislation?

Ingham ISD and Eaton RESA found this to be an opportunity to collaborate, build proactive systems, and engage networks to focus on literacy to increase student success. While the components of the Third Grade Reading Law have sparked instructional debates throughout the state, both Ingham ISD and Eaton RESA constituent districts embrace the opportunity to improve student achievement and to prepare our children for life beyond high school.

Ingham ISD and Eaton RESA have partnered and to create Literacy Focused Workgroups consisting of curriculum directors, literacy specialists, early childhood specialists, special education directors and educational leaders from local districts throughout the region. The purpose of these workgroups is to collaborate, review and collect resources needed to develop plans for interventions and assessments that support districts and families, including guidance from the state General Education Leadership Network (GELN) and the third grade legislation. The workgroups co-created templates and processes that local districts can utilize in order to communicate current reading levels and document intervention activities as they are needed.

Center stage of the laws required supports is a method of systematizing and organizing learning opportunities for students commonly known as a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). This system creates three tiers of instructional supports for all students to ensure they develop critical skills and receive additional instructional opportunities if they are falling behind their peers. These tiers range from Tier I, which is the common instruction that all students receive; Tier II instruction is targeted for some students who have fallen behind slightly; to Tier III instruction directed to only a few students whom are significantly behind.

While MTSS is the vehicle that ensures students receive the instruction they need, the accountability rests within a required Individual Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP) that is co-developed between the student’s teacher and parents based on assessment data which is initially gathered in the first 30 days of grade three. This agreement establishes the supports the student will receive to help catch up to grade level through the persistent monitoring and adjusting of supports and resources throughout the school year.

Both Ingham ISD and Eaton RESA consultants collaborated on the development of the IRIP tools as well as on the final critical component for supporting these K-3 students. This critical component is a Parent’s Read-AtHome Plan. This plan consists of a series of strategies parents will employ at home to ensure that both school and home supports are aligned and targeted to meeting a student’s specific needs. Parent and administrator toolkits have been developed and delivered to local districts to support parent and administrator needs. These toolkits are also available on the Ingham ISD or Eaton RESA website. The toolkit includes resources, strategies and activities to bridge and strengthen home-toschool learning connections. One of the online resources is a public website developed by Ingham ISD called the Family Learning Connection. This interactive roadmap for families was developed to provide all the check points and tools needed to navigate through a child’s educational journey from birth to high school. In addition, both educational service agencies are working collaboratively with Early Childhood experts to connect pre-kindergarten learning to the overall third grade reading proficiency goals.

Since Ingham ISD and Eaton RESA embedded many of components of the Third Grade Reading Law in daily instruction for all students, constituent districts have been able to spend more time on developing specific plans for each student. These individual plans are based on a diverse set of resources and experiences gathered from years of a multi-tiered system of supports implementation. Children come to public schools from many different backgrounds and their needs vary from significant interventions and supports to accelerating beyond their grade level. At the end of the day, we should all care that students are reading at grade level by third grade. As a region we should want our students to be successful and graduate from high school, collegeand career-ready.

Sean Williams is the Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services at Eaton RESA.

Laura Colligan is the Director for Student Instructional Services at Ingham ISD.

Click here to download the November issue of FOCUS.

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