New Dashboard Provides Tools to Tackle Michigan’s Early Literacy Crisis

With tests showing a continuing decline in early literacy in Michigan, TalentFirst has published an interactive dashboard documenting third-grade reading scores for nearly every elementary school in the state.

The dashboard, publicly available here, incorporates data on the percentage of students who participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program, allowing comparisons of schools of similar economic status.

The purpose, said TalentFirst President Kevin Stotts, is to empower educators, employers, parents and school board members to drive solutions to what has become a crisis — the increasing number of Michigan children who face a severe disadvantage by being unprepared to read at grade level.

Covering three test years, the dashboard includes results from the recently released 2022-23 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, which showed statewide third-grade reading proficiency at its lowest levels for full-scale testing since the M-STEP was adopted in 2015. (Due to the pandemic, M-STEP testing was not conducted in 2019-20, and the assessments saw a lower completion rate in 2020-21.) The latest scores show just 40.9% of the state’s third-graders scored proficient or advanced for reading.

“If you consider nearly 60% of students are entering fourth grade unable to read at the level they need to succeed, it’s no exaggeration to call this a crisis,” Stotts said.

“Our intent is to equip communities with the information they need to demand improvements on behalf of our children. The data clearly shows individual schools have figured out how to boost student achievement with strategies other schools should emulate,” he said.

Accompanying the dashboard, TalentFirst has published resources (PDF) for parents and others, including a set of questions that can be posed to school leadership, such as:

  • What reading programs and assessments are you currently using? What changes have you seen in student outcomes with these reading programs?
  • Has the district evaluated its reading curriculum to ensure it is aligned with the findings from the science of reading?
  • What classrooms or schools in your district have higher levels of proficiency than typical? What are they doing differently in their literacy instruction?

The dashboard tracks third-grade reading scores from the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) for the 2018-19, 2021-2022 and 2022-23 school years.

Stotts pointed out that the dashboard goes further than other releases of test data, because it cross-references by economic status. Poverty, although not the only factor, has been shown to have a negative correlation to academic achievement.

“There are insights to be gained from those schools that outperform their economic peers – just as there are reasons for constituents of underperforming schools to ask questions and support strategies for improvement,” said Leslie Brown, chair of MetalFlow and a member of TalentFirst. “Across the board, we see examples of schools outperforming their economic peers – just as we see examples of under-performing schools at every economic level.”

Early literacy has long been a priority for TalentFirst, a West Michigan CEO alliance providing leadership on today’s complex talent challenges. The organization and its members have an extensive track record of collaborating with, and advocating on behalf of, K12 education. In preparing the dashboard for release, TalentFirst engaged with researchers, parents, school board members, superintendents, principals, literacy coaches and teachers.

“The data shows some bright spots — schools that are demonstrating results by focusing on scientifically proven curricula and practices,” Stotts said. “We intend to celebrate those in the weeks ahead. At the same time, we continue to work with our education partners to drive improvements that must happen. We can’t afford to do otherwise.”

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