SLD Read Michigan Third Grade Reading Position Statement

SLD Read appreciates the efforts of the Michigan House of Representatives to pass a bill focused on third grade reading.  Increasing third grade reading proficiency through early standardized assessment and intervention-based strategies is vital to the success of all of Michigan’s children.  Although this bill is a positive step in the right direction, we believe that there are a number of areas that need improvement to make it effective and move the needle forward for our struggling readers.  We also believe that retention must be removed from this bill.

On October 26, 2015, The United States Senate passed the READ Act, “Research and Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia Act”. This Act authorizes funded research specific to early identification, to professional development for teachers and administrators of students with dyslexia and implementation and to scaling of successful models of dyslexia intervention. Findings listed in this Act included that as many as 1 out of 6, or 8,500,000, American school children may have dyslexia.  This Act puts the focus on dyslexia and emphasizes to educators the importance of identifying and implementing evidence based intervention programs.  Currently, the educational system does not use the term dyslexia in schools.  It is listed under a blanket term of Specific Learning Disability.

During the 2014-2015 school year, Michigan had 447,120 public school children enrolled in grades K-3. Based on the findings of Congress as outlined in the READ Act, 76,010 public school children enrolled in grades K-3 Michigan may have dyslexia. During the 2014-2015 school year, 48,099 children in grades K-3 were categorized as students with disabilities, or children with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  If the current bill were to pass, children with dyslexia could be retained in third grade rather than appropriately identified as having a neurobiological condition. They would be prevented from receiving appropriate accommodations alongside quality instruction, which puts them even more at risk for not completing high school.

 Position:  SLD Read asserts that retention and smart retention needs to be completely removed from the bill.

Mandatory retention policies will not appropriately meet the needs of all students and will be detrimental to a student’s success.  The research study, Winning the Battle and Losing the War: Examining the relation between grade retention and dropping out of high school concludes the following:

A systematic review of seventeen studies examining dropping out of high school prior to graduation demonstrates that grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of dropout status. The discussion addresses the discrepancies among the perspectives of many educational professionals regarding the effectiveness of grade retention and deleterious long-term correlates. (Jimerson)

Comprehensive reviews of dozens of studies over the last hundred years concluded that the vast majority of studies indicate no improvement in the child’s performance during the year of retention. In the few studies that showed improvement that first year, these gains were lost within a couple years. (E.S. Holmes 1989, S Jimerson 2001) Furthermore, Florida’s early grade retention law has been cited as proof that retention adds to academic success.  However, new long term research shows a significantly different result.  The research study, The Effects of Early Grade Retention on Student Outcomes over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Florida concludes the following:  

We find evidence of substantial short-term gains in both math and reading achievement. However, these positive effects fade out over time and become statistically insignificant within five years.  (Schwerdt)

Position:  SLD Read asserts that the following elements are critical components that must be included to the current bill to support students of all abilities:

  1. Evaluation using diagnostic assessment that screens for dyslexia.
  2. Effective training, professional development, tools, and support for teachers and school administrators to improve their understanding of how to teach reading to all students using evidence based systematic, explicit, multisensory and sequential approach.
  3. Funding to train reading support staff including reading coaches, tutors and volunteers, using an evidence based, systematic, explicit, multisensory and sequential program.
  4. Recognition that many students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities do not always qualify for IEPs or 504 plans.
  5. Ongoing support and intervention for students past third grade who are still not proficient.
  6. Funding and resources that would promote greater understanding of appropriate accommodations and assistive technology for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities in the general classroom.
  7. Funding and resources that would promote greater understanding for parents, schools and communities of why students struggle with learning how to read, write and spell to promote early identification, and intervention.


Holmes, C. T. (1989). Grade-level retention effects: A meta-analysis of research studies. In L. A. Shepard & M. L. Smith (Eds.), Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention (pp. 16-33). London: The Falmer Press.

Jimerson, S.R. (2001) Meta-analysis of Grade Retention Research: Implications for Practice in the 21st Century. School Psychology Review,
2001, Volume 30, No. 3, pp. 420-437

Jimerson, S. R., Anderson, G. E. and Whipple, A. D. (2002), Winning the battle and losing the war: Examining the relation between grade retention and dropping out of high school. Psychol. Schs., 39: 441–457. doi: 10.1002/pits.10046

Schwerdt, Guido, and Martin R. West. 2012. The Effects of Early Grade Retention on Student Outcomes over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Florida.  Program on Education Policy and Governance Working Paper Series. PEPG 12-09.

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  1. Working for All Struggling Readers in West Michigan - SLD Read - December 30, 2015

    […] Bill 4822) in the House of Representatives, the SLD Read Board of Directors composed an updated Position Statement related to Michigan Third Grade Reading and SLD Read Board President, Dr. Michael Ryan, contributed a guest column (Grade retention harms […]

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