BENTON HARBOR — The initial Read by Grade 3 bill introduced in the Michigan Legislature in August 2015 would have resulted in 39 percent of the state’s third graders being retained, according to a legislative analysis at the time.

As passed, the law requires that third-grade students can’t advance to fourth grade if they score a grade or more behind in reading on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) state standardized test, starting this school year.

The law requires school districts to provide additional support to some students who score below grade level, but not by a full year, depending on how low they tested at.

Michigan Department of Education officials estimate that based on the Spring 2018 M-STEP results, if the law had been in effect, about 5 percent of the state’s third graders would have been held back, with another 17.5 percent requiring additional support as they advanced to fourth grade.

Christina Martin, English Language Arts Consultant with Berrien RESA, said her agency has been providing guidance about the third-grade reading law to school districts in Berrien County for the past three years, partially through two early literacy consultants.

“We have been working with schools to create balanced assessment systems in early literacy to help identify students who are struggling,” she said in an email. “We have also provided schools with a reading improvement plan template that they can use to support students who have been identified as needing extra support based on their assessment system.”

How many students would have been held back locally? Not many, according to an unofficial survey of local school districts.

Officials from Lakeshore and St. Joseph school districts each said only one third-grade student would have required additional support based on the 2018 M-STEP results, with no retentions.

Lakeshore Superintendent Phil Freeman said his district started implementing Reading Matters in January 2018, with financial support from the Lakeshore Excellence Foundation.

He said the district planned to implement the program, but the Read by Grade 3 law accelerated those plans.

LEF approved a three-year $300,000 grant to fund the program, which created classroom libraries and sent teachers to Columbia University in New York to be trained in the program. Freeman said several teachers were trained over the summer on how to be Reading Matters trainers.

At St. Joseph schools, Curriculum Director Kelly Gaideski said the district implemented the Level Literacy Intervention System last school year at Lincoln and Brown elementary schools using federal title money and are adding the program to Clark Elementary School this school year using funds for at-risk students.

But she said the implementation had nothing to do with the Read by Grade 3 law.

“We’ve been trying to do interventions as long as I can remember,” she said.

Other school districts:

Bridgman Public Schools

Bridgman Superintendent Shane Peters said that one student would have potentially been held back, with less than 15 others requiring additional support.

Besides giving K-3 students reading below grade level the required Individual Reading Intervention Plan, he said parents are provided with a read at home plan. In addition, he said they are hosting three family literacy nights during the school year and two weeks of summer intervention support.

Coloma Community Schools

Coloma Superintendent David Ehlers said that three of the third-graders in 2018 would have potentially been held back. But he said all three would have qualified under one of the four exemptions, so they would have advanced to fourth grade.

Ehlers said Coloma uses a multi-tiered system of support to make sure students are on target, along with involving parents through partnership meetings and parent nights. 

“We believe it is a great plan and we will continue to refine it as necessary to better serve our students.”

Buchanan Community Schools

Executive Director of Academic Services Mark Kurland said four students would have been held back, with 18 students needing additional support.

In preparation for the law, he said that on the last day of school in the spring, students were sent home with a reading activity bag, which included books and ideas on how to include reading over the summer.

He said the district started implementing portions of the law early, with summer school provided to students in grades K-3 who had individualized reading improvement plans (IRIP).

Dowagiac Union Schools

Superintendent Jonathan Whan said six students would have been retained in 2018 if the law had been in effect.

He said students are being provided extra support in a number of ways, including through Reading Recovery and a Targeted Summer School program focused on reading for students in grades K-3.

Niles Community Schools

Superintendent Dan Applegate said his district would have had less than five students meet the retention requirements. But he said none of them had been in the Niles school district every year prior to third grade, so they could possibly receive an exemption.

He said the district made sure students had ample opportunities to read this past summer.

“Every elementary child went home with three brand-new books,” he said. “We partnered with the YMCA to held summer programming that encouraged children to read along with the physical and hands-on activies provided.”

In addition, he said the district partnered with Chartwell’s Meet Up and Eat Up to offer 13 pop up libraries over the summer where children could get a free lunch and more free books.

Benton Harbor Charter School Academy

Literacy Coach Shaya Helbig did not say how many third-grade students would have been retained in 2018 if the law was in effect. But she said the school is using the Michigan Literacy Essential Practices as a guide for teaching reading in the classrooms. In addition, she said the academy has already started implementing parts of the law, including identifying the students who need IRIPs.

New Buffalo Area Schools

Superintendent Jeff Leslie said none of the district’s third-grade students would have been retained or needed extra support based on the law.

He said the school district has always placed a big emphasis on reading fluency starting in kindergarten using “Unlocking the Reading Code: Rewiring the Brain to Accelerate Learning” from Common Core State Standards.

In addition, he said the district uses Achieve3000, a supplemental online literacy program.

He said no changes have been made due to the new law.

Contact:, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege