Rising above the Rest: How Rankin Elementary helps 3rd graders excel at reading test

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GENESEE COUNTY (WJRT) (10/24/19) - Last year, nearly 700 third-graders in Michigan were held back for not meeting reading standards.

But one elementary school in Genesee County is surpassing expectations.

Rankin Elementary School third-grader Justina Martin loves to read.

"There's one part in this book where it gets me very interested," says Martin.

Her classmates enjoy reading, too.

Last year, Rankin ranked the highest in Genesee County on reading. Its third-graders tested in the 97th percentile for the state's M-STEP English Language Arts test, which gauges if students are reading at grade level.

"Typically the data would say for schools who have a high rate of free or reduced lunch, you're probably going to see less proficient scores in reading," said Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Eddie Kindle.

His entire district gets free lunch. But he said Rankin's success boils down to individual attention.

"I think the answer is to continue to build individual learning assessment plans for students," Kindle said.

"The test is not written for an average third-grader. It's written for a high-level third grader. So it is a hard test to pass," said teacher Leanne Welch.

She has been teaching third grade for 30 year and said the state reading test is a make or break moment.

"They can do it. But it's not necessarily a fair thing to do to these kids, to put them in that pressure situation," Welch said.

She believes it goes beyond teaching basic reading skills.

"You have to put them in situations where they have to problem solve on their own, prior to the test or they're not going to do it," Welch said.

She said it is about instilling confidence, which starts before they enter the classroom.

"It starts with parents and goes right through from preschool on," Welch said.

"It's taking kids were they are, at that level, and then building on that," says first and second-grade teacher Marianna Johnson.

While Johnson does her best to prepare students for the next year, she said parents should encourage reading at home.

Most educators agree that young children should be reading between 15 and 30 minutes a day.

"Let them read what they want to. give them the skills and let them take off from there," says Johnson.

Both teachers say a little encouragement goes a long way.

"It doesn't matter what your economic status or background is, what's important is the value of the relationship that the teacher builds concerning or centered around reading and the importance of reading," Kindle said.

M-STEP testing is done in the spring. Researchers at Michigan State University estimate between 2,000 and 5,000 third-graders may be held back this school year.