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

House Bill 117 is almost identical to a previous bill that died in the last General Assembly.

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A new bill would eliminate retention under Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee and is almost identical to a previous bill that died in the last General Assembly.

House Bill 117 was introduced last week by state Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon.

“I have nothing against retention,” Manning said. “But we just feel that a parent should have a voice in that.”

The Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which was enacted in 2012, requires third graders pass a reading test to advance to fourth grade. Third grade students need to score at least a 685 on the test for this current school year to move on to fourth grade. For English language arts, the scale scores range between 650 and 850.

Manning, who was a teacher for 37 years and taught third grade for most of her career, said the English Language Arts Assessment would still be administered once a year under HB 117.

“Retention in kindergarten or first grade isn’t as noticeable and isn’t as detrimental to a child,” she said. “But a lot of those (third graders) if they’re retained, it’s extremely difficult for them. Kids are making fun of them years later.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said on Tuesday that it’s important to focus on early childhood literacy, “so the issue of retention does not come up in a student’s life.”

“There is just no reason that we cannot get a lot more of our students reading at grade level by third grade,” he said.

A small percentage of students each school year do not meet the Third Grade Reading Guarantee’s promotion threshold, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

About 1% of third grade students did not meet the promotion threshold for the 2021-22 school year; 1.38% for the 2020-21 school year; 1% for the 2019-20 school year; 5% for the 2018-19 school year; 5% for the 2017-18 school year; 6.1% for the 2016-17 school year; and 6.6% for the 2015-16 school year.

Ohio educators support HB 117

Both of Ohio’s teacher union associations are in favor of HB 117.

“What we don’t want to be doing is sucking the joy out of learning, particularly sucking the joy out of learning to read for our students,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. “We don’t want the pressures of a single test on a single day and all the things that go into how a student performs to outweigh what teachers who work with kids everyday in the classroom know what their kids are able to do.”

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, fears holding students back because of a standardized test could have unintended consequences.

“You’re putting a student on the pathway to dropping out further down the road because they’re further behind their peers,” she said.

Studies show holding students produces short-term academic gains that wain over time. Studies also show that students who repeat a grade are more likely to be suspended, and students who are old for their grade are more likely to be bullied or exhibit bullying behaviors.

Cropper thinks the emphasis should be on literacy, not standardized testing.

“What we need to be doing is focusing on what we are teaching children, making sure that they have the proper supports that they need, and focusing less on standardized testing, and more on making sure that we have enough intervention specialists and enough resources and supports to be able to give students the individual help that they might need,” she said.

Manning and Robinson co-sponsored the previous iteration of the bill — House Bill 497, which passed 82-10 in the House of Representatives in June, but never made it of out the Senate.

Even though the bill died last session, Manning is optimistic the bill will pass this time around.

“We’re hoping we just ran out of time when we got over to the Senate,” she said. “I’m hoping that if we can get it over there early enough, we’ll have enough time to get it done before they break.”

State Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, voted against HB 497.

“Reading is foundational to educational success and I have concerns about the effects of removing its prioritization,” he said in an email.

McClain recently introduced a “backpack bill” that would make all public, nonpublic, and homeschool students in grades K-12 eligible for a state scholarship that would be funded through an education savings account (ESA) to go to a participating nonpublic school or receive home schooling. Parents could use the ESA to pay for tuition, fees, uniforms, and books.

Ohio’s English Language Arts test

The percentage of students who tested at least proficient in Ohio’s third grade English Language Arts test has fluctuated in recent years, but the number of students tested also dipped, according to ODE.

About 61% of students scored at least proficient in 2017-18; 66.7% in 2018-19; 44.2% in 2019-20; 51.9% in 2020-21; and 59.8% in 2021-22.

In December 2021, DeWine signed a bill that exempted school districts from the retention requirements of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee for the 2021-22 school year. Students may still have been held back if their parents, principal, and teacher agreed that the student was reading below grade level and not prepared for fourth grade.

Ohio reading scores decreased on the nation’s report card administered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Ohio’s fourth graders reading proficiency dropped from 38% in 2019 to 33% in 2022, and the eighth graders also went from 38% in 2019 to 33% in 2022.

DeWine’s focus on literacy

DeWine’s proposed budget that he unveiled earlier this year prioritizes education and childhood literacy and includes a $162 million science of reading proposal that includes $64 million for science of reading curricula, $43 million each year for the next two years to offer science of reading instruction for educators and $12 million to support 100 literacy coaches in schools and districts.

The science of reading is decades of research that shows how the human brain learns how to read.

“Unfortunately, we still have some schools in the state of Ohio, they’re not following the best science,” DeWine said. “We need to make sure that every child in the state of Ohio has that opportunity to read based on the best science.”

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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