Early Literacy

Our Students Need Us to Solve Michigan's Early Literacy Crisis Now

Michigan’s third graders continue to fall behind in education with only 40.9% of them now capable of reading at grade level. TalentFirst remains a strong advocate on the critical importance of helping students read proficiently by third-grade. That’s why we have compiled this dashboard: to help parents, school boards, policymakers, educators and community partners understand, ask questions and drive immediate solutions to this Michigan literacy crisis.

TalentFirst’s work emphasizes that every school must be responsible to their families and recognize the urgent need to improve reading proficiency of all students. Without knowing how to read by third grade, students are struggling throughout school and even graduating on time (PDF) . Of course this leaves them ill-prepared for the workforce, college or career training.

Low literacy is also a major cost for all of us in the community, business and taxpayers. It is estimated that the cost of low literacy in the U.S. is approximately $2.2 trillion each year.

Solving this problem begins with awareness.

First, the lack of reading at grade level is NOT just related to the recent COVID pandemic. In fact, Michigan students have been falling behind for years. Our reading scores lag behind more than half of the states in the country. Quite simply, we have a big problem and we have failed to collectively confront it locally or in our state. The time to do that is now.

Second, lower income and higher poverty schools clearly have greater challenges tied to reading, but it is important to note that Michigan as a whole state is failing our kids. Every parent should check out their school on this dashboard to know how their school compares.

The dashboard shows there are under-performing schools in every economic level. Parents, educators and policymakers need to be informed. We all need to learn from the schools that are doing best, and we need to know what they are doing right.

The dashboard draws on statewide data from Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI), including 3rd Grade State Testing and Economically Disadvantaged Student Counts reports. It is an interactive tool allowing users to compare building-level reading performance on the third grade M-STEP (Michigan’s statewide assessment of grade-level literacy) in relation to the share of students considered economically disadvantaged. 

  1. Select the year: The dashboard will default to show data from 2018-19, but you can use the filter on the right-hand side titled “select year” to update the chart.
  2. Choose a school by ISD, district, or individual building – you can scroll through the list or type in the search bar to find your school.
  3. Click the ‘x’ next to each search bar to clear results and initiate another search.
  4. Hover over any circle on the chart to see more detailed information.

The chart depicts building-level reading performance on the 3rd grade M-STEP assessment in relation to the share of students considered economically disadvantaged. Buildings shaded green perform better than we would expect given their proportion of economically disadvantaged students, buildings shaded blue perform within expectations, while those shaded orange perform worse than expected.

Click here for Screenshots on how to view and interpret the results (PDF)

  • Schools can be compared vertically with similar economic status to highlight schools that are significantly outperforming their peers.
  • Additionally, schools can be compared horizontally with similar reading proficiency levels to highlight schools that are beating the odds based on their economic status.

Note: some buildings were suppressed in the original data in compliance with FERPA and the more robust disclosure avoidance rules enacted by CEPI and the Michigan Department of Education.

3rd Grade Reading
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Taking Action

TalentFirst is providing the following recommendations as a roadmap to ensure all students in Michigan receive a high-quality, best-in-class education. School districts need all of our support to begin to transform the way they prepare future generations to navigate life, postsecondary education, and employment. 


Evaluate Reading Curriculum

Recommend schools evaluate their reading curriculum and replace it with evidence-based curricula if not already present. 

  • EdReports empowers districts with free reviews of K-12 instructional materials and reports that offer evidence-rich, comprehensive information about a program’s alignment to the standards and other indicators of quality.
  • What Works Clearing House has been a central and trusted source of scientific evidence on educational programs, practices and policies that are focused on what works in education.
  • The Reading League’s curriculum evaluation tool (PDF) provides guidelines to evaluate how well a curriculum aligns with the findings from the Science of Reading.

Select Evidence-Based Curriculum

Provide teachers with support in selecting evidence-based curriculum along with professional development to implement new literacy instructional practices. 

The National Center on Intensive Intervention has developed tools to assist in selecting academic assessment tools and interventions that meet standards for technical rigor and address specific needs.


Equip Teachers

Ensure school leaders are providing teachers with high-quality coaching and ongoing professional development aligned to research-supported literacy instructional practices. 


Adopt Leading Practices

Adopt the leading practices for early literacy that are grounded in the Science of Reading and identified by the General Education Leadership Network (GELN) , the Literacy Essentials and LETRS training


Expand Literacy Instructional Time

Expand literacy instructional time through after school learning, summer school and research-based proven tutoring programs


Engage District Leaders and School Board Members

Contact district leaders and school board members to ask questions and drive solutions to improve reading proficiency of the students in your schools.