Michigan students are back in class today. While they’re busy adjusting to their new routine, hundreds of districts across the state are studying last year’s report card. The results of the 2018 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or “M-STEP” are out. WKAR education reporter Kevin Lavery talks with Morning Edition host Emily Fox about the reading scores in mid-Michigan.
EMILY FOX: Kevin, you’ve focused much of your reporting on literacy skills, or how well kids can read and write. The M-STEP measures reading for third through eighth grade. How were state scores in that area?
KEVIN LAVERY: Statewide, we did see some improvement...but honestly, the change was miniscule. Only 44.4 percent of third graders are reading at grade level. That’s only three-tenths of a percent higher than in 2017. So, virtually no gains here. That’s despite the fact that state has launched a big push in the last couple of years to improve literacy. The bottom line is that well over half of Michigan third graders are not reading at grade level...and that’s alarming.
FOX: How were the reading scores in mid-Michigan?
LAVERY: I’ve seen results for seven local school districts, and most are either slightly up or slightly down. The real story is in Lansing. The district is still well below the state average of 44 percent reading proficiency, but their scores went up more than five percent over last year.
Lansing Deputy Superintendent Mark Coscarella is taking the long view.
“You know, research will tell you that any time in an organization when you’re trying to make change, it takes a number of years,” says Coscarella. “It takes anywhere from five to seven years to really see substantial changes. We’re starting to see the fruit of that labor. The hard part is sometimes though, understanding that you’ve got kids right in front of you that you want to see those results now. So, it’s hard to be patient sometimes, but we are seeing the results that we’re looking for.”
LAVERY: Keep in mind, the M-STEP has only been around for four years, so there’s not a lot of baseline data yet. But Coscarella says in that time, Lansing has been reorganizing its schools to really spotlight its pre-kindergarten through third grade curriculum. They think it’s paying off.
FOX: This really matters right now, because of a Michigan law that recently passed that focuses on third grade reading. Tell us more about that.
LAVERY: Right. Starting next school year, third graders who don’t score proficiently in English Language Arts on the Spring 2019 M-STEP will be retained; meaning, they’ll repeat third grade in 2020. Obviously, no teacher wants that to happen.
I mentioned how the Lansing schools are focused on pre-K classes. Many people have heard of Great Start and Head Start. Mark Coscarella says they’ve recently blended those early childhood development courses under one roof.
“The advantage of that means that the kids will have the highest standards of each of those programs,” he says. “For example, the Great Start Readiness Program doesn’t have all the wraparound services that a Head Start program will. Well, those kids now will benefit from that in a lot of different ways. The Early Childhood Special Education students didn’t attend full day pre-school before. They will now, so they’re going to be in school twice as long. That’s going to help in the long run.”
LAVERY: Also, Lansing purchased a new core reading series this summer that it’s using for the first time. The curriculum is called “Journeys,” and it’s actually a K-12 program. So that shows that Lansing teachers are hitting home the importance of strong reading and writing skills all the way through a student’s senior year of high school.
FOX: Why is this law focusing on third grade, compared to any other grade?
LAVERY: Well, as a teacher once explained to me, that’s the grade when students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” It’s expected that they will have mastered at least the basic concepts of reading by then, so that they can apply that learning towards other subjects that require a lot of reading comprehension, like English and social studies...even math. The heavy lifting really starts in the fourth grade.