The long-term effects of lead-tainted waters on residents of Flint, Michigan, are still emerging and will continue to do so for years to come, but signs point to a potentially dramatic educational impact on kids. 

According to a report by the Detroit Free Press, reading levels for Flint third-graders have dropped by 75% since 2013, with only 10.7% of third-graders in school districts affected by the crisis reading at or above grade level. 

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“We’re in crisis mode,” Flint school board vice president Harold Woodson told the Free Press.

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In its report, the Free Press was careful to note that the drop in reading levels may not be attributable to lead-poisoned water. Across the state, reading levels dropped by nearly 30% in the past three years — from 70% of readers at or above grade level by third grade in 2015 to 44% today. This is due to adjustments in reading standards and a more difficult reading test, according to the report. 

Michigan Superintendent of Education Brian Whiston told the Free Press that he thinks some of the drop in reading levels in Flint is due to lead poisoning, but added “some of it could be stress.” 

“These families have gone through a lot of stress,” Whiston said. “So I wouldn't be surprised to hear things dropped considerably."

Read More: Years Later, Flint’s Water Crisis May Be Causing Miscarriages

Of course, stress levels and living in poverty are intrinsically related — and this relationship can often have adverse consequences for children. According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, “more than half [of families] reported at least one member younger than 21 had one or more new or worsening behavioral health concerns since October 2015.”  

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The drop in reading levels comes even despite a $480,000 US Department of Education grant to Flint Community Schools through the Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV), which aims to “help the students and educators foster a nurturing school environment.” 

Other educational programs for Flint residents are forthcoming, the Free Press reports, including a virtual library and a family literacy center, both of which were proposed by State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, who represents Flint. 

Read More: Badass 11-Year-Old Girl Scientist Invents Device to Help Test Water in Flint, Michigan

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For Flint students, the road forward continues to be littered with challenges, both educationally and otherwise. 

“The psychological impact of this has gone unchallenged,” Neeley said, according to the Free Press. “This community is traumatized and the state has not dealt with the trauma and even though the state says the water is safe to drink, no one is going to drink the water."

“[E]verybody has to pick up a piece and overcome these great challenges,” he added. 


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Reading Levels for Flint Third-Graders Have Dropped 75% in 4 Years

By Phineas Rueckert