Op Ed from John C. Kennedy

As a Michigan business leader, I see the direct effect of illiteracy in the workplace and our talent pool and it is a roadblock to Michigan becoming a leading state economy.

I was a member of the Governor’s bi-partisan 3rd grade reading workgroup this spring. The workgroup proposed a series of recommendations to improve literacy and the report was widely hailed for its recommendations.

The solutions proposed in House Bill 4822 have been carefully selected from best practices through extensive 3rd grade literacy research. And, I believe this bill will improve literacy in Michigan.

This summer, Grand Rapids Public Schools piloted a 5-week program in three of their lowest performing elementary schools. The program put into practice the bill’s intervention proposals that reflect our workgroup’s findings.

The pilot program attacked two key success influencers: curriculum and teacher training. The students all scored one grade level or more behind reading proficiency on Michigan’s standardized test. Curriculum today assumes students obtain some basic literacy skills at home, but in many cases they haven’t. The pilot curriculum measured each child’s literacy through diagnostic instruments and performed targeted, individualized interventions to master the five basic building blocks of reading (phonics, phonemics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

Elementary teachers today are not prepared to teach diagnostically-informed interventions. We provided teacher training and reading specialists to coach teachers throughout the 5-weeks on how to use diagnostic instruments and how to perform individualized interventions for teachers to take back into their classrooms in the same schools this year.

68% of the pilot program students who attended all five weeks showed progress on the NWEA MAP assessment test. In contrast, 53% of a control group of like-performing students who did not participate in the program declined over the summer. The teacher feedback has been extremely positive. It’s not a question of intelligence or capability. When children have the basic building blocks of reading, the information necessary to move forward in learning, they can achieve like anyone else.

If we pass this bill, GRPS’s success can be scaled across the state.