In an article for The Michigan Daily, reporter Alex Harring wrote about U-M students who are advocating against a controversial state reading law. Among them is Educational Studies student Gabriel DellaVecchia, one of the founders of Don’t Leave Us Behind, a campaign addressing the fact that 5,000 third grade students could be held back each year under the new law, which requires Michigan schools to identify and retain third graders who struggle with reading and writing.
DellaVecchia, who taught with Denver Public Schools before coming to the SOE, said Colorado and other states have similar policies in place, though the retention component is optional.
“Denver Public Schools, as a district, said they didn’t believe in retention, so they actually had a letter that we could share with families and say, it is the guidance of the district that retention is not the best option to help support your child in reading,” DellaVecchia said. “In my three years of teaching in Colorado, not a single family in my classroom, and as far as I know, not a single family at my school, selected retention for their child.”
The law has drawn controversy since it was passed in Michigan in 2016. While proponents say it sets a standard to ensure students do not fall behind and receive the support they need, critics note research indicating negative psychological and social impacts of retention on children, in addition to the added costs to the government. Students who are retained are also more likely to drop out.
At least 25 states have similar legislation in place. Under Michigan’s version of the law, there are exemptions, though critics question if these favor those with the resources to obtain them. These “good faith exemptions” can include students enrolled in special education with an individualized education plan, limited English with less than three years of instruction in an English language learner program, and enrollment in their current school for less than two years with evidence they did not have an individual reading improvement plan.
In addition to lobbying policymakers, DellaVecchia said that the Don’t Leave Us Behind Campaign has been meeting with community groups across the state to educate people on the law.