Should Struggling 3rd Grade Readers Be Held Back? New Ohio Budget Changes Policy

Now a student’s parents must consult with the reading teacher and principal before a decision is made.

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Mandatory retention will no longer be required under Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

A parent will now be able to request a student be promoted to fourth grade — even if they are not reading at grade level, according to the state budget that Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed.

Now a student’s parents must consult with the reading teacher and principal before a decision is made, and the student would continue to receive reading intervention until they are reading at grade level — something educators see as a win.

“We think it’s a very positive step forward to return decision making regarding how best to serve students who might need extra support in reading to the parents and educators who know those kids best,” said Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro.

The Third Grade Reading Guarantee was enacted in 2012 and requires third graders pass a reading test to advance to fourth grade.

“Because there was so much pressure put on those tests, that created a whole lot of test anxiety for kids,” DiMauro 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.

Melissa Kmetz, a third grade teacher in Lakeview Local Schools in Trumbull County, thinks changing the retention piece of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee will ultimately better help students struggling with reading.

“Allowing parents, teachers and administrators to sit together and look at multiple data points, student testing anxiety and looking at an array of features together, will really help a family and the school make a decision that’s in the best interest of the child,” she said.

Educators said providing early reading intervention and additional support for students who may be struggling to read would be more helpful then holding them back.

“Let’s not put 100% of the focus on one test on one day,” DiMauro said. “Let’s allow the people that know our children best and can see how they perform throughout the year with the autonomy to make decisions about what’s in the best interest of the kids.”

Kmetz has seen how the Third Grade Reading Guarantee hangs like a dark cloud over students and parents all year long.

“It’s a lot of stress on little kiddos,” she said. “Is it just anxiety across the board. … It’s just sad to see so much pressure put on a little child about one test when it doesn’t need to be that way.”

She’s had parents email her the night before the test saying how their child is so nervous they are crying, and she’s seen strong students who are poor test takers stress over the exam. Third graders also worry about their friends passing the test and being able to go to fourth grade together.

“I understand that they want to make sure the kids aren’t too far behind before moving to fourth grade, which I completely agree with, but just basing it on one test is not the way to do it,” Kmetz said.

Karen Carney, a fourth grade teacher in Northeast Ohio, remembers overhearing students stress over the Third Grade Reading Guarantee during the first year of implementation.

“That’s such a burden for an eight and nine-year-old to have to carry and worry about,” she said. “It was almost like you’re setting these kids up to fail. … you’re just totally destroying them. … You cannot judge a student on one moment in time.”

Retention can have lifelong consequences, Kmetz said.

“Kids really internalize that and they tie their worth and their intelligence to being able to pass a test,” she said. “It’s just a vicious cycle.”

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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