LANSING — A bill meant to deal with the issue of third-grade reading was on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives yesterday, with legislators from the Detroit Caucus voting no due to a retention component of the legislation. Among the provisions of House Bill 4822, one of the most controversial was the mandate that would effectively hold back third-grade students who tested poorly in reading. 

“Teaching kids to read is the most fundamental component to educating our children,” said state Representative Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), who serves as the Democratic Caucus’ Urban Education chair. “As legislators, we are sent to represent our respective districts and to ensure that we are advancing policies with best practices that will help to create optimal learning modality. Punishing students who struggle academically through retention simply does not mesh with that objective.”

“Learning to read is a fundamental right that we know will absolutely put kids on the course for academic achievement,” said state Representative Brian Banks, chairman of the Detroit Caucus (D-Detroit). “But to effectively read, children need more than a simple recognition of words; they need to understand them and be able to analyze them within their context. If there have been academic interventions from kindergarten through third grade, and a child still doesn’t test as proficient, then it is clear that there are more significant issues than just educational preparedness at play, and retention will not help them.”

Members of the Detroit Caucus, many of whom are former teachers themselves, disagreed most strongly with the retention component of the bill, which would keep third-grade students from progressing to fourth grade if they did not test as proficient in reading. The caucus members cited several statistics in support, including:

  • Retention was found to be one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout, with retained students being 2 to 11 times more likely to drop out than promoted students.
  • Retained students are less likely to be enrolled in post-secondary education of any kind.
  • Retained students receive lower educational and employment status ratings and are paid less per hour at age 20.
  • Retained students are more likely to display aggressiveness, to have a history of suspension or expulsion, to act out in the classroom and display behaviors associated with Attention Deficit Disorder or Conduct Disorder.
  • More boys are retained than girls.
  • More minority students are retained than white.

“Truly effective policies meant to enhance reading proficiency need to marry full support for learning in school and at home,” said state Representative LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit). “Studies have shown the impact that retaining children will have on their future performance, and so we are sentencing our children to failure if we’re not first addressing the systemic problems created by poverty, oversized classrooms and lack of services meant to enhance parental involvement. Retention is a quick fix to a deep, complicated issue.”

“Seasoned educators realize that children learn at various stages,” said state Representative Fred Durhal III (D-Detroit). “They understand that retaining children not only can have negative effects on their academic performance, but that letting the state mandate their retention strips control from local school boards, administrators and educators. It is the state saying, ‘Despite your direct involvement with your students, every day, we know better than you about how to help them.’ That has never been the right approach to education, and it certainly isn’t now.”