New Bill Would Eliminate Retention Under Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee

New Bill Would Eliminate Retention Under Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee

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A new proposed legislation seeks to eliminate the practice of retaining students under Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee. This bill closely resembles a previous bill that failed to pass in the previous General Assembly.

State Representative Gayle Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville, and State Representative Phil Robinson, a Democrat from Solon, introduced House Bill 117 last week.

Manning expressed her support for parental involvement in the decision-making process regarding student retention. She clarified that she does not completely oppose retention but believes that parents should have a say in it.

Enacted in 2012, the Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee stipulates that third-grade students must pass a reading test in order to proceed to the fourth grade. For the current school year, students need to achieve a minimum score of 685 on the test. The scale scores for English Language Arts range from 650 to 850.

Manning, who had 37 years of teaching experience, mostly in third grade, clarified that House Bill 117 would not eliminate the English Language Arts Assessment, which would still be administered annually.

She argued that retention in kindergarten or first grade is less noticeable and less detrimental to a child, but for many third graders, being retained can have severe consequences. She mentioned that these students often face difficulties and ridicule from their peers for years to come.

In line with the focus on early childhood literacy, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine emphasized the importance of preventing the need for retention in a student’s academic journey. He expressed confidence in the ability to improve the reading skills of more students to grade level by third grade.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, only a small percentage of students each year fail to meet the promotion threshold set by the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. In the most recent school year, 1% of third-grade students did not meet the threshold. The percentages for previous years were 1.38% (2020-21), 1% (2019-20), 5% (2018-19), 5% (2017-18), 6.1% (2016-17), and 6.6% (2015-16).

Both teacher unions in Ohio, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, support House Bill 117. They argue against the negative impact of high-stakes testing on students’ joy of learning, particularly the joy of learning to read. They believe that teachers’ expertise and knowledge of their students’ capabilities should hold more weight than a single test on a single day.

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, expressed concern that retention based on standardized tests could lead to unintended consequences, such as higher dropout rates and increased bullying. Studies have shown that while retaining students may result in short-term academic gains, these gains typically fade over time. Additionally, repeating a grade increases the likelihood of suspension, and older students within a grade are more likely to experience or exhibit bullying behaviors.

Cropper stressed that the focus should be on literacy rather than excessive reliance on standardized testing. She called for a greater emphasis on providing proper support, intervention specialists, resources, and individualized assistance to students in need.

Manning and Robinson were also co-sponsors of the previous bill, House Bill 497, which received overwhelming support in the House of Representatives but failed to pass in the Senate. Despite this setback, Manning remains hopeful that House Bill 117 will succeed, stating that the previous bill may have simply run out of time in the Senate. She hopes that by introducing the bill earlier this time, there will be sufficient time for it to be passed before the legislative session concludes.

State Representative Riordan McClain, a Republican from Upper Sandusky, voted against House Bill 497.

McClain recently proposed a legislation known as the "backpack bill," which aims to provide access to state scholarships funded through an education savings account (ESA) for all students in grades K-12, including those in public, nonpublic, and homeschool settings. These scholarships can be used to cover tuition, fees, uniforms, and books for attending nonpublic schools or for homeschooling.

According to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), the percentage of students who demonstrated proficiency in the state’s third-grade English Language Arts (ELA) test has varied in recent years. However, it’s worth noting that the number of students taking the test has also decreased.

In the 2017-18 academic year, approximately 61% of students achieved proficiency, while the percentage increased to 66.7% in 2018-19. However, there was a decline in the following years, with 44.2% in 2019-20, 51.9% in 2020-21, and 59.8% in 2021-22.

To address concerns regarding students’ proficiency in reading, Governor DeWine signed a bill in December 2021 that waived retention requirements for school districts under the Third Grade Reading Guarantee for the 2021-22 school year. Nevertheless, students who were deemed to be reading below grade level and unprepared for fourth grade could still be held back if it was agreed upon by their parents, principal, and teacher.

The National Center for Education Statistics’ report card revealed a decrease in reading scores for Ohio students. In 2019, 38% of fourth graders demonstrated proficiency, but this figure dropped to 33% in 2022. Similarly, the percentage of eighth graders proficient in reading decreased from 38% in 2019 to 33% in 2022.

Governor DeWine has placed a strong emphasis on literacy and made it a priority in his proposed budget. The budget includes a $162 million investment in the science of reading, with $64 million allocated for science of reading curricula. Additionally, $43 million per year for the next two years will be used to provide science of reading instruction to educators, and $12 million will support the deployment of 100 literacy coaches in schools and districts.

The science of reading refers to decades of research that explore how the human brain learns to read. Governor DeWine emphasized the importance of ensuring that every child in Ohio has access to evidence-based reading instruction, as some schools in the state may not be fully aligned with the best practices supported by scientific research.

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    Rowen Vasquez is a 39-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. She has been writing about education for more than 10 years and has developed a following of educators and parents across the globe. Her writing is engaging and informative, and she often uses her blog to share her experiences working in the classroom.