An article in the Detroit Free Press from April outlined the work of Michigan legislators to agree on a policy regarding third-grade retention for readers performing below grade level. Legislators in the Michigan House passed a bill in October that would require the retention of all third-graders who are more than one grade level behind in reading. The Senate passed its own bill, which received bipartisan and educator support, including a provision that would allow parents, principals, and reading teachers to seek exemptions on a case-by-case basis for students reading below grade level.
A possible basis for a compromise between these two competing bills might be a similar law in Oklahoma that requires third-graders performing below grade level in reading to repeat the grade, but allows a local team comprised of the child’s parents, teachers, and a reading specialist to weigh in and, potentially, recommend a probationary promotion to fourth grade that would also require approval from the principal or superintendent.
Another difference between the two proposed bills is the overall philosophy and language used regarding retention. The House bill refers to students who are retained in more traditional terms, still considering them third-graders, but allowing them to receive lessons at the fourth-grade level in subjects in which the student is proficient. The Senate bill takes a different approach: it would follow a “smart promotion” concept rather than retention, having the student advance to fourth grade and participate in all content in which they are proficient, but then receiving intensive intervention in reading.
Local educators voiced concerns about the retention aspect of these proposals, citing mixed results in research on the effectiveness of retention at increasing student achievement. Both bills emphasize early intervention and prevention, but they also both include a mandatory retention policy. It is also pointed out that local districts often already have multidisciplinary teams in place to review retention decisions and make the final determination of what is in the best interest of the student.