Third grade reading scores lower compared to last year, study says

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Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 12:22 PM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WNEM) - Close to 5,650 students in Michigan had low enough reading scores that they could be required to repeat the third grade, according to a new report from Michigan State University.

Nearly all students in third through eighth grades in spring 2022 took the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) after two years of disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report comes from MSU’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC), the strategic research partner of the Department of Education and local school districts in Michigan.

In 2022, 95 percent of students took the test compared to 71 percent last year. More students scored below the state’s benchmark for one grade level behind in reading and could be held back under Michigan’s Read by Grade Three law, the report says.

Overall, 5.8 percent of third graders who took the English language arts M-STEP had scores that make them eligible to be held back, according to the law.

The report says this is a full percentage higher than the percent of tested third-grade students who were one grade level behind in reading in 2021, at 4.8 percent.

Katharine Strunk, director of EPIC, and Clifford Erickson, a professor of education policy in MSU’s College of Education, say this provides more evidence students will need more support to recover from missed opportunities to learn caused by the pandemic.

“More than anything, this shows us that the pandemic has taken a toll on many of Michigan’s students, and more are struggling with literacy in the third grade than were prior to the pandemic,” Strunk said. “Michigan’s schools and students will need increased investments and support to recover academically.”

Nearly 15 percent of tested Black third graders in Michigan are eligible for retention, as well as 7 percent of Latino students, 9 percent of economically disadvantaged students, and 11 percent of students with disabilities, the report said.

There are also substantial disparities across types of schools and districts. The report says one in four students in partnership schools, the state’s lowest-performing schools, are eligible to be held back, compared to one in 20 students in non-partnership schools.

Nearly 18 percent of students in districts that have previously scored in the bottom quartile of English language arts achievement are retention eligible relative to 2 percent of students in the highest-scoring districts. These gaps have increased slightly since the 2020-2021 school year.