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Early literacy, teacher evaluations bills clear state House

books in a library
Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

The state House has approved a controversial bill meant to improve young students’ reading skills.

The goal is to increase early intervention for kids who struggle with reading before fourth grade.

But the bill would also eventually require schools to hold back some third graders who aren’t proficient – even if those students are making significant progress.

That aspect of House Bill 4822 was too punitive for most Democrats in the House, including those who had put many hours into crafting the bill.

State Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) originally co-sponsored the bill.

But he voted against it because kids who are making progress and “doing all the right things” could still be held back.

“This bill then tells Johnny none of that matters. We’re going to hold you back regardless,” said Zemke. “I am not going to remove the hope of a nine-year-old.”

Zemke had spent hours a day earlier trying to hammer out a deal and lobbying his colleagues on the bill during a marathon seven-hour session.

After that session, he appeared upset and declined to comment on the status of the bills.

Republicans would not compromise on making sure students do not move to the fourth grade if they are not reading at grade level.

“I’d rather hold a child back for one grade than hold a child back for life,” said state Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), a former teacher.

“After all these measures, after all these interventions, if a child is still not able to read, if they are still struggling, it is not only wrong to advance him or her, it is irresponsible. No – it’s immoral,” said state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto).

The House approved a last-minute change to the bill delaying requirements to hold back students until the 2019-2020 school year.

The legislation provides some exemptions for children to move forward to fourth grade if they fail reading tests.

Some school groups had praised the direction the bill had taken compared to similar legislation which failed to move forward last year.

Under that measure, all third graders who failed a single state reading test would have been held back.

The state House also approved a bill meant to make teacher evaluations more uniform across the state and improve assessments of teachers and administrators.

Senate Bill 103 got wide bipartisan support in the House. Both bills now go to the state Senate.

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