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Government/Politics

Ohio bill that eliminates high-stakes testing for third graders is making headway

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A classroom of students in a charter school

An Ohio House committee has unanimously passed a bill that would get rid of one of the educational changes made under former Gov. John Kasich’s administration — the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

The Third Grade Reading Guarantee was temporarily changed this year to allow third graders who can’t read proficiently to be held back if the principal, the reading teacher and a parent agree. That change was made along with some others because of issues with learning during the pandemic. But the bill that passed out of the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education committee Tuesday evening would make that change permanent.

Rachel Chilton with the Ohio School Psychologists Association testified for HB497 in a committee hearing. She said studies show holding students back creates stigma and could lead to increased dropout rates, particularly among minority children.

“Research on the Third Grade Reading Guarantee published by the Ohio State University showed minimal impact to test scores since the law’s enactment. No meaningful or significant improvements were seen in fourth grade reading achievement,” Chilton said.

Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper said she also supports the legislation.

"Retention or promotion is a serious decision that significantly impacts the student. Therefore, retention should not be based on a single test score. Teachers have access to more information and have a deeper understanding of a student's classwork and abilities. OFT prefers having teachers and parents make these decisions instead of a state mandate dictating what should happen," Cropper said.

But Chad Aldis with the Fordham Institute testified at last night's hearing in opposition to the bill, saying it would lead to children being promoted without learning the skills they need to be successful.

"Make no mistake, if HB497 passes, Ohio will in all likelihood revert to ‘social promotion.’ Students will be moved to the next grade even if they cannot read proficiently and are unprepared for the more difficult material that comes next. There’ll be relief in the short-run but the price in long-term will be significant," Aldis said.

Back in 2012, when Kasich advocated for the change, there was concern that students were being promoted for social reasons, without learning the material. And that was believed to hurt children long-term as they never recovered from the learning loss. So, the Ohio Legislature passed the governor's Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

Ohio's school districts were required to begin testing kids for reading in kindergarten. Students who were struggling at that point were offered intervention. Students who were still lagging behind in third grade were to be held back, beginning in the 2013-2014 school year. Since that time, more than 39,000 children in Ohio have failed the statewide reading test and most have been required, with some exceptions, to repeat that grade.

Now that the bill has unanimously passed out of the House committee, the bill's next stop will be the full Ohio House where it is expected to pass.

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