News Feature | February 22, 2018

Reading Levels Plummet After Flint Lead Crisis

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Did the Flint water crisis damage childrens’ brains?

“Third-grade reading proficiency in Flint, where Snyder allowed the water — and children — to be poisoned by lead, dropped from 41.8 percent in 2014 to 10.7 percent last year. That’s a nearly three-quarters drop,” a Detroit Free Press columnist recently reported.

“Read it again: That’s nearly a three-quarters drop in third-grade reading proficiency among children whose lives were affected by lead poisoned water during the Flint water crisis,” the report said.

Flint school board vice president Harold Woodson said official are in “crisis mode.” He added that problems began before the lead crisis.

“We were able to put a nurse in all of our elementary buildings and we’re investing more in looking at the behavior of the children. But the impact from the lead might not manifest itself for another year or two,” he added.

Lead-contaminated drinking water was not the only factor connected with plummeting reading scores.

Reading tests “changed to become more difficult in 2015, which led the third-grading reading proficiency statewide to fall from 70 to 44 percent. But Flint’s decline was much worse than the state’s average,” The Atlantic reported.

Michigan Superintendent of Education Brian Whiston stated: "I certainly think that some of the (drop in proficiency) could be due to it (lead poisoning). But some of it could be stress. I'm certainly disappointed that it's at that level. These families have gone through a lot of stress. So I wouldn't be surprised to hear things dropped considerably."

Critics say the state should have done more to monitor the wellbeing of the lead-poisoned children.

“[It] isn't acceptable is the state not putting into place three years ago a program to monitor and continually assess the development of the poisoned children,” the Detroit Free Press columnist stated.

Flint’s lead crisis, which left hundreds of children with high blood lead levels, followed the city’s switch from the Detroit water supply to Flint River water. When Flint changed sources, it became responsible for its own treatment processes. The city has since returned to Detroit water provided by the Great Lakes Water Authority.