Our schools need tools to carry out state mandates

Our state legislators are not educators. The problem is, many of them think they are.

In fact, many of them think they know everything there is to know about everything. The truth is, they need to rely more on the experts in the various fields.

Since Republicans gained control of both chambers and the governor’s mansion, they have pushed through a lot of “stuff.” We don’t disagree with all of it, but we believe they have been constantly putting their nose where it doesn’t belong.

Education is one of these places. Many of their bills addressing education haven’t come from people with expertise in the field. In fact, much of it has been opposed by the experts.

An example is a pair of House Bills – 5111 and 5144 – which would force third-graders who aren’t proficient in reading to repeat the grade. Opponents say the plan includes no accommodations for students with special needs; it’s based on only one test, and has no flexibility for parent input.

If the bill by state Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, was already law, as many as 36,000 children would have had to repeat the third grade last year because they did not score proficient on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) exam.

If HB 5111 passes the Legislature, the measure would take effect for the 2014-15 school year.

“If undue rigidity exits, not allowing the parents, teachers and school community to take each case on a student-by-student basis, potential harm to the student is inevitable sooner or later,” said Godwin Heights Superintendent Bill Fetterhoff.

Fetterhoff insists his concern is not with the philosophical bar, but with the implementation.

“Education is not running an assembly line where occasionally one product that passes by is deemed inferior by a quick visual overview and is placed in the discard or ‘seconds’ box,” he said.

The Michigan Association of School Administrators says the legislation is focused on retaining students rather than supporting schools to implement sound intervention policies that target literacy development.

By focusing on intervention strategies and investing in those strategies, Michigan can set its students on a more certain path to success.

What are some of these strategies?

  • Additional instructional support outside of the regular school day.
  • Developing summer reading programs.
  • Individualized instruction plans for struggling readers.
  • Attaining effective language and reading teachers/coaches.
  • Parental accountability for student attendance.
  • Implementing home reading programs.

These are just to name a few, but they cost money, and the Legislature has been taking away dollars from education while at the same time demanding more success.

According to the Education Commission of the States, a total of 32 states have policies in statute aimed at improving third-grade reading proficiency, and less than half of those states have mandatory retention policies.

Of the states that have mandatory retention policies, all provide intervention support. In fact, the state which Michigan’s legislation attempts to emulate, Florida, invests more than $100 million annually to help their school districts implement intervention strategies. Last year, Florida allocated more than $130 million toward reading intervention.

The legislation as written also contains implementation challenges. The current state assessment used to determine proficiency in third grade is not given until the fall of the student’s fourth-grade year. The proposed legislation is impossible to enforce given Michigan’s testing window.

We agree that having students be proficient in reading by the third grade is a great goal, but our legislators must give our schools the tools to carry this out.

Holding thousands of third-graders back isn’t the answer.