We need more readers

Published 8:31 am Friday, November 27, 2015

The State of Michigan continues on a path to adopt a reading proficiency standard (HB 4822) after the House narrowly approved the legislation. If approved, the bill would require schools to enact early interventions, retain students who are not reading-proficient at the end of third grade, and employ literacy coaches to assist struggling readers and teachers.

With nearly 40 percent (40,000) of Michigan third graders deemed “not proficient” following the MEAP assessment, the problem isn’t small. Under the more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress, that number increases to 70 percent.

The struggle the state faces isn’t whether those students need to be proficient readers, but rather how to achieve proficiency. Valid arguments abound on both sides of the debate as students retained are more likely to dropout, while students promoted statistically experience more academic struggles than their peers. Added to this is research that reflects the disparity between performance of students based upon income levels, with students from higher income households performing better than their less fortunate peers.

Locally, the problem isn’t whether or not to help those students, rather how to do it effectively and economically. This bill includes no funding, yet requires the employment of “literacy coaches” to assist students and teachers. While some sources may exist to offset the cost, it’s difficult to structure a retention policy around a single score (reading). A student struggling with reading may well be very strong in mathematics. Should a student be retained only because of the score on one test?

I give credit to Dr. Applegate and his team for already beginning to think about how we implement this in Niles. The most ideal solution may be something in-between, but the goal is to increase literacy, not just comply with legislation from Lansing. Legislators are good at creating law, but they aren’t very good at executing it (perhaps because that’s not their job). The goal should not be compliance. Reading gives rise to knowledge, debate, an informed electorate, and every day social interactions.

We need readers. Every teacher I’ve spoken with wants to create a contributing member of society. We can’t have the latter without the former. We also can’t rely solely upon educators. It has to be a community, parental, and social expectation and cause. In other words, legislators and supporters of the law need to push the message, not a law, and then put their money behind that cause, and not into PACs and influence that lessen the opportunities of children to succeed.


Jon Martin is a member of the Niles Community Schools Board of Education since August 2011. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at jon.martin@nilesschools.org.