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Posted: 02/19/14

Low-income MI students
not proficient in reading

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      A report released last month indicates reading is not gaining ground in Michigan, especially among lower-income elementary students.
       Romeo students, however, are demonstrating they are ahead of the state with three out of four proficient in reading.
       The report, "Early Reading Proficiency in the United States," uses data from the Kids Count report. The report shows 81 percent of the state's lower-income fourth-grade students are not reading proficiently.
       "With almost half of Michigan's children living in low-income families, these are truly alarming findings,'' said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.
       The data was compiled using National Assessment of Educational Progress figures. Family income was measured using the National School Lunch Program, which offers free or reduced-price lunches to students whose families are 185 percent below the poverty level.
       Higher-income students were tracked at 56 percent proficient in reading. Overall, the findings show 69 percent of all Michigan kids are not proficient readers.
       Michigan was one of six states that didn't make progress in reading during a 10-year period. The percentage of all students improving only increased by 1 percent from 2003 to 2013.
       Romeo's students are faring better with reading. Romeo Assistant Superintendent Eric Whitney said when using Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) exam scores for reading, Romeo's fourth-grade reading proficiency is at 75 percent for 2012. He said 2013 MEAP scores are currently under analysis.
       "Reading has been a strong point for our student achievement," he said.
       He said one factor that helps with reading proficiency is Response to Intervention, a program providing additional assistance to struggling readers.
       For low-income students, he said the district is tracking all of its demographics and sub-groups, such as the economically disadvantaged or those learning English as a second language.
       "We do look at all those groups to see if they're keeping pace," he said.
       The 2012-13 School Accountability Report showed the district's reading proficiency with a "green" status for economically disadvantaged students, meaning the district is meeting state standards and goals.
       Also affecting proficiency, according to the report, is a 20 percent drop in funding for K-12 education from 2003 to 2013 when adjusted for inflation.
       "We've disinvested in education over the past decade, and we can connect the dots from the lack of spending to these stagnating reading scores," Zehnder-Merrell said.
       The latest projections predict the Romeo school district will have $1.6 million in expenditures over revenue by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. Whitney said funding does impact scores, but that Romeo teachers are forging ahead regardless of budget woes.
       "At some point you're stretching more thinly, and you hope the rubber band doesn't break," he said. "In Romeo, we have a very dedicated staff that really want to see kids succeed."
       The report states a focus on reading proficiency by the end of the third grade is an essential step to improving scores, saying students that read well in third grade are more likely to graduate and be successful.
       Romeo's MEAP proficiency for third-grade reading was 74 percent. Whitney agreed there is a link between reading and success, saying the skill is a gateway to other areas like social studies, math and science.
       "Kids who are not reading by third grade have a hard time catching up," he said. "The older they get, the harder it is to catch up and make up for all those skills."
       For Macomb County, MEAP scores show fourth-grade reading at 68 percent.
       Michigan's percentages run parallel with national rates. The report shows 66 percent of fourth-grade students aren't reading proficiently, while 80 percent of low-income students aren't proficient. For higher-income, the rate is 49 percent that are not proficient.


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Retrieved 10/23/2014 at 8:27:09 AM.
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