Education Rehash: Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee

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reading-a-book Brilliant or Insane examined Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee in 2013. We weren’t buying the bizarre legislation that mandates retention for any third grade student who doesn’t pass a reading achievement test.

What we said then

The problem with the reading guarantee is twofold. First, the kinds of tests used to measure reading ability are, in most cases, very poorly constructed. I’ve seen test answer choices that reading teachers debated for hours. Second, and a much bigger issue, the reading guarantee says that any third grader who fails the test does not get promoted to the fourth grade. Retaining students for any reason is damaging (more on this in a future post). However, the idea behind the third grade reading guarantee, that students can’t recover from failing a reading test when they are eight years old, is ridiculous. If students are not reading well, as they head to upper elementary school, this is certainly a problem, one that started much earlier. The fix is better reading strategies, beginning as early as preschool.

What we say now

In the first year of the reading guarantee, just over four percent of third graders in Ohio were retained, due to failing the reading test. Sounds like a win, right? Not quite.

Ohio politicians in favor of the reading guarantee will likely say that 4% is a small number that signals the success of the reading guarantee. However, that four percent adds up to a whopping 5,000 students who were not allowed to move on to fourth grade, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

For the Cleveland school district, which had some of the worst reading scores in the state, the Guarantee meant holding back 324 students. That was a 600 percent increase in retention: Only 46 had been held back after 2012-13. Another 91 students in Cleveland with borderline scores are taking mostly fourth-grade classes but are still officially third graders, according to the state. Students in this in-between stage statewide are included in the four percent. That gave Cleveland schools a 14.6 percent retention rate – more than triple the state average and 10th worst in the state.

While the bureaucrats will argue that 96 percent of third graders can read, it’s clear that the only guarantee offered by Ohio’s reading guarantee is that thousands of students won’t be promoted to the fourth grade.

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
  1. Douglas Green, EdD
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