Senate passes third-grade reading retention repeal, legislation now goes to House

In a bipartisan vote, the state Senate voted this week to eliminate the retention requirement from Michigan’s “Read by Grade Three law.” The bill now goes before the state House.

Introduced by Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, Senate Bill 12 would no longer require schools to hold back third-graders if they underperform on the M-STEP exam.

As it stands, the “Read by Grade Three” law punishes students for missing the benchmark on a “single portion of a single standardized test,” points out Polehanki, a former English teacher in New Haven Community Schools and chair of the Education Committee. Polehanki cites psychological research showing that being held back is one of the most traumatic experiences a child can experience, along with losing a parent and going blind.

MEA member Leah Porter, a third-grade teacher in Holt Community Schools and the 2021-22 Michigan Teacher of the Year, testified at a recent Senate Education Committee hearing that her students “work every day to the best of their ability.”

“It has been a joy to watch their confidence grow,” she said. “So knowing what we’re coming to in April with the M-STEP approaching — I have to tell you it fills me with dread thinking about students who already know this test has a lot of weight and meaning for them.”

“It is a stressful part of our school year,” Porter said. “Knowing that some of them, who have worked so hard and gained so much over the course of the year, could take this test, have a snapshot [taken] of their abilities, and then be told they’re going to have to be retained in third grade — it is absolutely devastating to think about.”

“I truly believe that if we were to remove the retention component of this law, it will affirm to parents, children and educators all across the state that we see kids as human beings,” Porter said.

As the bill heads to the House for further consideration, MEA will continue to work with lawmakers to provide greater flexibility around the assessment requirements in the law, particularly around the timing of beginning of the year kindergarten assessments.  Be sure to contact your state representative

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