Proposed Ohio law would eliminate mandate to repeat third grade

Teachers agree holding back third-graders who do not pass test is bad idea; think tank argues it’s a good idea

Ohio teachers are pushing for lawmakers to pass House Bill 497, which would eliminate the mandate that any student who doesn’t pass their third-grade reading test cannot go on to fourth grade.

But some education groups argue the mandate is imperative to the success of Ohio’s students.

The bill also would allow schools to administer the test only once per year but requires schools to still have support and remediation services for students who are behind the grade level’s expectation.

The bill has passed the Ohio House but has not been voted on in the Ohio Senate.

Scott DiMauro, president of teacher’s union Ohio Education Association, said the current policy doesn’t allow for the expertise of teachers and hurts relationships with parents.

“It’s a policy that, rather than encouraging collaboration between educators and families, this is one of those things that that drives a wedge,” DiMauro said.

The policy also doesn’t work, said Christina Collins, a member of the Ohio School Board. She cited data from the Ohio Department of Education showing that students who were held back from fourth grade and went through an entire year of third grade again still scored low on the literacy tests when taken again. Just 14% of those students were proficient in reading after taking third grade again, Collins said. Test results continued to decline through eighth grade, when just three percent of those students who had been held back were proficient, Collins said.

Proficient is the minimum score on the reading test where students can pass on from third grade to fourth. There are two scores higher than proficient and two scores lower than proficient.

“Consequencing students who struggle to read by retaining them in third-grade has not worked,” Collins said. “In the business world, such a minimal return on an investment would be called a failure.”

Collins has sponsored a resolution in the Ohio School Board supporting HB 497 and said she expects the school board to hear it during their meeting Tuesday through Wednesday.

But the Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, argued in a new paper the third-grade reading guarantee requiring students stay back a year if they don’t pass their tests does work, pointing to state exam data showing third-grade reading achievement was on the rise prior to the pandemic.

Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute and the author of the report, said during the pandemic when the state relaxed the law, most schools promoted students who, under the law, should have been held back. It’s not clear if those students were given appropriate support, he argued.

“If you really are having really very severe reading deficiencies at the end of third-grade, something needs to be done,” Churchill said.

State representative Gayle Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville and one of the sponsors of HB 497, said she thinks there will be changes to Ohio’s report cards as well, though those changes have not yet been ironed out. The third-grade reading guarantee is a key part of the overall score that schools get on their report cards.

The bill is cosponsored by State Rep. Phil Robinson, a Democrat from Cleveland.

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