- Using a 5-year, $4.9 million grant, the Michigan Education Research Institute will closely monitor the impact of the state’s controversial Read By Grade Three law, which passed in 2016 and permits schools to retain 3rd-graders whose state assessments find them reading more than a grade level behind, The Detroit News reports.
- While Michigan is among 16 other states to pass legislation allowing schools to retain students based on reading proficiency, it is reportedly the first to launch a comprehensive review of such legislation’s effects.
- Projected estimates by the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) for the number of students retained come spring 2020, when Michigan will be implementing the law for the first time, suggest that about 4.4% of students will be retained. A greater percentage of those retained are projected to be African Americans, at up to 11%, compared to an estimated 2.6% of white students.
Being able to read at level by 3rd grade is considered pivotal, as children who reach 4th grade without learning to read proficiently enter the high school dropout track. Those who don’t graduate high school face long-term consequences that include lower earning potential and productivity levels as adults.
Low-income students who cannot meet 3rd-grade reading standards are also more likely to become America’s lowest-earning and least skilled citizens.
According to a report by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, disparities in reading achievement disproportionately affect African American, Hispanic, and Native American students. The report shows approximately 89% of low-income African American students, 87% of low-income Hispanic students, and 85% of low-income Native American students scored below 3rd-grade proficiency levels in 2010, compared to their white (76%) or Asian/Pacific Islander (70%) counterparts.
This means that if legislation were to prompt the retention of students reading below 3rd-grade levels, African American students would be significantly and negatively impacted, as reflected in projected estimates by EPIC.
According to federal data, black and Hispanic students are already far more likely to repeat a grade. In the 2009-10 school year, more than half (56%) of 4th-graders held back were black. For 3rd-graders, that number was 49%. Considering that less than one-fifth of the surveyed K-12 student population was African American, these numbers reflect a disparity that negatively impacts black students in particular.
While the legislation assumes retaining students with low reading proficiency levels could improve student outcomes, students who are held back in elementary school are almost three times more likely to drop out before getting a high school diploma. At the same time, the cost of a repeat year can be more than $384 million, according to one 14-year study in Texas.
Students who move on to pursue higher education after being held back in high school may also be underprepared for college as a result of being held back. To compensate for the disconnect in the K-12 public school system that leaves students off-track, higher education institutions often place students in remedial courses before they can take college-level courses.
In all, these remedial courses can prove to be a financial drain on students and can even cost colleges and taxpayers up to $7 billion annually.