DCS superintendent questions feasibility of third grade reading-based retention bill

During the most recent DCS Board of Education meeting, Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Chris Timmis brought a piece of legislation to the board and public’s attention that would essentially place a wall between third graders advancing to the fourth grade, if they don’t meet certain criteria for literacy.

Michigan House Bill 4822 of 2015, which if enacted would go into effect starting in the 2017-18 school year, involves mandating that school districts hold early elementary school students to the literacy standards of the Common Core for the purposes of determining whether or not they can advance to the latter half of their elementary school careers.

Read the full text of Michigan House Bill 4822 in the below embedded document from the state House of Representatives website.

While fostering literacy in early elementary school children is undoubtedly a top priority of early elementary educators in Dexter, as well as any other school district, officials in Dexter are concerned about the lack of fiscal consideration for provisions in the proposed legislation.

Those provisions would call for the implementation of a process for identifying and addressing the needs of students who are on track to fall below the reading proficiency standard set forth by the state, which district officials project to be costly at a period in the history of public education in our state where significant budget cuts in the summer are necessary to bring costs in line with projected budgets turned in during the spring.

One of the implementation requirements would be the hiring of professional reading coaches, whose primary role would be to intervene with students who are identified as being in danger of falling short of the standard.

In addition to essentially forcing third graders to repeat a grade if they fail to meet that standard, all intermediate school districts in Michigan will receive only enough funding to hire two qualified professional reading coaches, on top of the additional resources that will need to be devoted to teaching another test to early elementary school children — in this case, one that is critical to students advancing through the grades with the classmates they have had since kindergarten.

“This thing is going to go through in some way, shape or form. I don’t have any idea how we’re supposed to implement it,” Timmis said at the board meeting, both expressing his concerns about the feasibility of enacting what House Bill 4822 mandates and the inevitability of the bill’s passage into law.

The Michigan House Education Committee voted 13-3-1 to send the bill back to the legislature for a second reading. Among those legislators who voted yea on the committee is Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor), who has agreed to speak to WeLoveDexter.com staff about this legislation later in the week.

“I haven’t found anybody in any iteration of it that has figured out how we’re actually supposed to put this into motion,” Timmis concluded his remarks.

Currently the Dexter school system has 267 third graders, 243 second graders, 202 first graders and 240 kindergarten students, with another 63 children in the Young Fives program.

The House Fiscal Agency’s analysis of House Bill 4822 backs up Timmis in its legislative analysis, which projects that the state would also incur additional costs, not just local units of government like the Dexter school district.

“The state would incur both the increased costs of educating certain students for an additional year as well as costs of the additional responsibilities the bill would require of the (Michigan Department of Education),” the HFA says in the analysis. “Local school districts and public school academies (PSAs) would also incur additional costs associated with additional responsibilities.”

While the Dexter school district, like most public school districts in Michigan, is facing a funding crisis that administrators in Dexter have been warning the public about going back to the administration of Robert Glass, there is also a real educational problem in Michigan that the HFA outlines in its analysis.

Based on Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) results for the 2013-2014
academic year, as many as 39 percent or 42,500 third grade students did not meet proficiency standards in reading.

“The more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment tells
a different story: there, the 2013 reading assessment demonstrates that fully 69 percent of
Michigan’s 4th graders have not attained proficient reading levels—nearly twice the
number who fall short on Michigan’s test,” the analysis said.

The Michigan Association of School Boards echoes Timmis and DCS officials’ concerns about the implementation, while also echoing their desire to raise literacy proficiency in early elementary school children.

“While one of MASB’s legislative priorities is to create reading intervention programs for early elementary students and to continue support for those students who are not grade-level proficient, this bill raises many concerns,” the MASB said in a September 11 edition of its email newsletter.

“Not only does it still contain a retention piece, it would go into effect for all students in the 2016-2017 school year. This would be unfair to students entering the third grade that year who would be subject to retention, but not the intervention programs in the early grades.”

Ultimately, if passed, the Michigan Department of Education would need to formulate ” three (or more) valid and reliable screening, formative, and diagnostic reading assessment systems for use by school districts and charter schools,” one of which Dexter Community Schools would have to choose from.

The MDE would also have to create the reading coach model, both in terms of program specifics and in terms of hiring criteria for the individuals who would be hired as reading coaches.

[embeddoc url=”http://welovedexter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015-HIB-48222.pdf”]

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1 Comment

  • If we can afford to implement a non-mandatory program such as Mandarin, there is money around to ensure that every 3rd grader in the Dexter Schools can read proficiently and pass onto 4th grade the first time. There isn’t a funding problem in Dexter, there is a spending problem.

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