“I had questions": GRPS parent meetings are helping families navigate Michigan’s Read by Grade 3 Law

Michigan’s Read by Grade Three Law is now in effect. To help parents navigate what it means for their child, in 2019, Grand Rapids Public Schools began hosting informational meetings intended to help families better understand the law, learn how to support early reading and literacy, and answer questions. Although each meeting covers the same information, as one parent said after attending the first session, “I had a lot of questions. If my schedule allows, I will attend another.”

Tennille Harkness’ daughter is a third-grade student attending a Grand Rapids Public School. “I didn't even know it was a law,” says Harkness. “I was aware of concerns around reading levels; but I was unaware they made it a law to have children repeat the third-grade.”

On October 6, 2016, House Bill 4822 (third-grade reading bill) was signed into law. It requires schools to identify learners who are struggling with reading and writing and to provide additional help. As of the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the third-grade reading law under Michigan Public Act 306 requires the retention of third-grade students who are reading more than one year below grade level. This means, students must pass a state test at the end of third-grade in order to move on to fourth-grade. The law additionally details specific requirements regarding assessing kindergarten to third-grade students — including the creation of an independent reading plan for students identified as having a reading deficiency.

A statement from Grand Rapids Public Schools regarding third-grade literacy and how it plans to help its families navigate the law can be found in its Read by Grade Three Parent’s Guide on its website. It reads, in part, “We know that one of the biggest predictors of literary success is a child’s ability to read at grade level by the end of third-grade. GRPS has placed an extra focus on third-grade reading for the past several years,” the statement continues. “We've created a guide and resources for you, to ensure that your child is ready to read by grade three!”

A key resource is its monthly meetings, where parents can receive information and have questions answered. As a parent, questions that arose with Harkness included the potential for a child to fall behind in other areas since, as she says, “We are only focusing on reading and writing;” or, “If a child is held back, will they get enough support the next time around?” she asks.

“My concern for my daughter and other third-graders is the potential to be held back a whole year, based off of a test,” she adds.
Another concern Harkness mentions involves the social-emotional impact being held back may have on a child, such as anxiety from not moving forward with familiar classmates and having to make new friends. 

While the informational meetings are intended to address the law, what it means for third-grade families, and to inform of resources available — showing up with questions and concerns is an opportunity for parents to connect with educators and start a conversation around how to best help their child succeed. As for Harkness, when asked if she felt like her questions were answered during the meeting she attended, she replies, “Yes, they even followed up after the session.”

During 2020, GRPS will hold four informational parent meetings around the Read by Grade Three Law. The first is set for Tuesday, January 14 at C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy. Childcare and interpreters will be provided.

Photos courtesy Grand Rapids Public Schools.

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