Dianda vows to fight so-called ‘read or flunk’ bills

PELKIE – Baraga Area Schools Superintendent Jennifer Lynn invited Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, to Pelkie Elementary School to convince him to fight House Bill No. 5111, which would require schools to hold back third graders who hadn’t met state reading benchmarks.

It turned out she was preaching to the choir.

“If they need this in Oakland, Wayne or Macomb counties, let them adopt it,” Dianda said. “But I don’t want to see them forcing it on us here if we don’t.”

“I’m big for local control,” he added. “We have the people in place that can make these decisions at the local level.”

Dianda read to students at the K-6 school, where Lynn doubles as principal, before touring classrooms and eventually sitting down to talk policy with Lynn and a couple of her reading-intervention specialists.

Focusing resources on early intervention, particularly during the formative first-grade year, produces better outcomes than retention, Lynn said. Pelkie Elementary uses a three-tiered Response to Intervention model, including core instruction for all students, mostly small-group instruction for tier II struggling readers, and intense one-on-one help for students still not responding.

Research shows that these strategies are far more effective than holding students back, she said, pointing to retention’s place on a list of different education strategies and their long-term affect on student achievement, based on meta-analysis of data from several different studies. According to that research, retention actually hurt students’ chances of future academic achievement.

“We have no strategy worse than retention,” she said.

Lynn noted that by third grade, students were primarily peer focused instead of teacher focused, and that retaining students not only stigmatized them socially, but convinced them that they were not only struggling, but a failure.

“I think you’ve killed the spirit of that young learner,” she said.

Dianda agreed that putting the extra effort in to help students in need was a more promising recipe for success.

“I think we can catch them up if we focus our resources through Intermediate School Districts,” he said.

ISDs serve numerous districts in their areas, providing instruction for students with special needs and other resources for the districts.

Dianda used the opportunity to discuss a couple of other education initiatives he champions, such as second-language classes for early elementary students – with the details under local control – and initiatives to take greater advantage of technology.

“We should try to get the Internet on the bus,” he said. “We need to use that on average 40 minutes a day they spend on the bus. On the bus we have a captive market.”

Dianda said there wasn’t enough support for the retention bill to bring it to a vote before the close of the last legislative session.

He hoped the bill, which moved rapidly through committee, would lose momentum as more legislators became aware of the research on retention’s long-term outcomes.

In Pelkie, students were definitely enthusiastic about being read to and, when asked, expressed enthusiasm for reading.

“I like to read about lightning, because when I grow up I’m going to be a scientist,” said second-grader Victor Westman.