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School districts use exemptions to get around Michigan’s 3rd grade reading law

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 5:16 PM EDT
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CORUNNA, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan school districts are finding ways to get around the state’s third grade reading law.

More than 3,000 third grade students were sent letters from the state saying they should be held back a year because of low reading scores -- that includes 3 students from Corunna Public School.

Corunna Schools Superintendent John Fattal says that won’t be happening.

“I fully agree that kids should be able to read by the end of third grade. So the intent of the law is spot on,” Fattal said.

The law, which went into effect this year – calls for third grade students to be held back if their reading level is behind by a year.

“To tie failure into how they do on a standardized test – I haven’t seen any research that says it’s good for kids to repeat a grade,” he said.

So Corunna – among many other districts in the state are using exemptions -- under the Read or Flunk law to allow students to move onto the 4th grade.

Given the circumstances of the pandemic and the back and forth between remote and in person learning --educators expect parents and districts to take full advantage of the exemptions.

One way to do it is a good cause exemption where parents agree that for the social and emotional development of the child – it’s best to move on.

Another kind of exemption?

“We keep a portfolio on all of our students, what their writing samples have been, what their reading level is throughout the year, so if they simply had a bad day on the assessment, we’ve got data that can prove that this child is ready to move on,” Fattal said.

Fattal calls the state’s read or flunk law just another layer of bureaucracy and more red tape districts and parents have to deal with.

A different way of looking at this – holding back more than 3,000 third graders could cost tax payers around $24 million.

That’s money – educators say could be better spent on improving literacy for students.

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