State senator calls for votes against third-grade reading bill he sponsored

Posted at 7:25 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 19:25:52-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — The original sponsor of a bill made a shocking plea before the Michigan Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee today.

The state senator who sponsored a bill that impacts thousands of third graders in Michigan called on The Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee to vote against his own bill.

“Students, teachers, administrators, and parents do not need more mandates from Lansing,” said State Senator Jon Bumstead, (R-Newaygo).

It is a bill addressing what should happen to third graders who aren’t proficient at reading this year. Right now under the law in Michigan, third-grade students who score 1252 or below on the English Language Arts M-STEP test face being held back a grade.

State Senator Bumstead said he supported a bill that would pause the state’s third-grade retention requirement for students who are not proficient in reading this year due to the pandemic.

The bill was changed by fellow Republicans. The new version does not just pause the requirement but pushes it to next school year when it would impact both third and fourth-grade students.

The Education and Career Readiness Committee chaired by State Senator Lana Theis (R-Livingston County) voted four to two to move the bill forward.

Theis voted for the bill, saying during the hearing that it provided accountability and ensured children learn to read. The votes opposed came from Democrats on the committee.

The timing of this meeting is controversial. The state already sent out letters to the homes of 2,966 third-grade students who took the MSTEP and were found not to be proficient in reading.

The letters notify parents their children could be held back in school. The parents have until July 1st to respond to the letters, determining their child’s fate.

Huron Valley Schools Superintendent Paul Salah says he wants to see retention paused, but lawmakers are tardy in addressing this. With last-minute changes in law being considered students will fall through the cracks. It creates more confusion in a year when communication with families learning remotely poses challenges.

“What about students who are homeless? Where do you send the letter? What about parents who don’t know the law exists?” asked Salah.

Michael Yocum, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Oakland Schools, says legislators need to get rid of retention laws altogether.

“Retention doesn’t work. I can predict the children we retain will fall further behind,” said Yocum.

Salah agrees.

“Students that are retained are more likely to not become proficient readers. They are more likely to drop out of high school. They are more likely to be incarcerated. If we know that the social implications of retention have that impact on people as they work their way through their lives, then we are going about this the wrong way,” said Salah. “Early childhood education has a positive impact on an individual as they work their way through adulthood, so I think our priorities are wrong.”

“Given the circumstances that families have faced this year, what do those test scores tell us? It is a very difficult determination to make,” said Yocum.

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released a statement saying it opposed the bill to retain third and fourth-grade students next year. The MDE and the State Board of Education oppose the retention component of Michigan’s third-grade reading law, which also provides support for children in improving their literacy.

“Third grade retentions are bad public policy, and even more so if expanding to students in 2 grades,” said Dr. Michael Rice, State Superintendent.

The bill still needs approval from the full senate, house, and governor to go into effect.