Bill responds to concerns of parents, teachers and education experts
LANSING, Mich. (Feb. 8, 2023) — The Michigan Senate voted today to pass Sen. Dayna Polehanki’s (D-Livonia) legislation, Senate Bill 12, to reform Michigan’s punitive third-grade reading law. The bill will eliminate mandatory retention of third graders based on one reading test while maintaining vital literacy supports and services.
“As a former teacher, it’s ineffective and out of touch education policy like this that led me to run for office,” said Sen. Polehanki. “And as the Chair of the Education Committee in the new Senate Democratic Majority, I wanted to seize this opportunity to do something about it. Since the Read by Grade Three law was passed, we’ve heard from parents, teachers and education experts calling for change, and this bill will ensure our kids have the reading supports they need—and eliminate the punitive and problematic mandatory retention piece they don’t.”
This bill focuses on eliminating the state-mandated retention piece but does not affect the parts of the “Read by Grade Three” law that provide coaching, professional development, and interventions for struggling readers beginning in kindergarten. Since the initial law’s passage in 2016, those parts of the law have produced increased English Language Arts achievement, well before the grade retention part of the law that took effect last year.
Grade retention research in other states shows that it has little or no impact on student achievement and may negatively impact longer-term student outcomes, including students’ mental health. In addition to grade retention not helping kids to read, there is also evidence that the retention piece of the law is implemented inequitably in Michigan, with Black and Latino students, students with lower incomes, and students in lower-performing districts more likely to be retained.
“Student demographic characteristics and district placement should not determine likelihood of retention—but it does,” Polehanki said.
The legislation has the support of countless parents and teachers. Various education experts and policy organizations have also endorsed the bill, including: Dr. Michael Rice, Superintendent, Michigan Department of Education; 482Forward; Center for Change Northern Michigan; American Federation of Teachers-Michigan; Michigan Education Association; Michigan Association of School Boards; the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education; Michigan Alliance for Student Opportunity; Michigan League for Public Policy; The Education Trust Midwest; Fund MI Future; Education Advocates of West Michigan; Michigan Voices; Wayne RESA; K-12 Alliance; Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals; American Association of University Women of Michigan; Kalamazoo Community Foundation; Autism Alliance of Michigan; The Lamphere Schools; Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators; Oakland Schools; Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association; and the Michigan Parent Teacher Association.