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Ohio’s third grade reading retention law faces opposition from broad coalition

Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau

The state’s largest teachers’ union rolled out a collection of state leaders and education experts Monday to voice their opposition to Ohio’s “third grade reading guarantee,” which requires a student be held back from advancing to fourth grade if they fail to pass their reading test.

The group, organized by the Ohio Education Association, said they support the passage of HB497, a bipartisan bill that would eliminate the retention requirement of the third-grade reading laws.

“A one-size-fits-all policy, like the mandatory third grade reading guarantee retention requirements, does not serve our students, has not been effective as a matter of public policy, and it’s something that needs to change,” said Scott DiMauro, OEA president.

Paul Thomas, a professor for Furman University, prepared a report — requested by the OEA — to review retention policies around the country. Thomas said he discovered that retention policies based on reading achievement did not result in increased reading proficiency.

Thomas also said retention is strongly associated with other negative outcomes, such as dropping out of high school.

“Grade retention is actually a punitive approach. It is not an approach to reading. And I would strongly advocate for focusing reading policy on actual reading and not punishing our students,” said Thomas.

Ohio’s “third grade reading guarantee” law was passed in 2012 with the strong support of former Gov. John Kasich. Proponents said that, in order to ensure a student's success throughout their time in school, they must be proficient in reading before moving on to fourth grade.

Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) voted for that bill in 2012 after adding an amendment that allowed students to re-take the reading test. But, 10 years later, she is sponsoring the billto revoke mandatory retention after hearing concerns and witnessing issues with the law.

“This gives parents a voice, if their child should be retained, because we know they know their students better than anyone else,” said Manning.

There have been a few groups to testify against the bill, including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research and analysis organization that advocates on education issues and for charter schools in Ohio.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio Policy at the Fordham Institute, told an Ohio House committee in May that the goal of retention is to give students more time and support as they learn to read.

“When students are rushed through without the knowledge and skills needed for the next step, they pay the price later in life. As they become older, many of them will decide that school is not worth the frustration and make the decision to drop out,” Aldis said.

The bill passed the Ohio House committee unanimously and passed the Ohio House by a vote of 80-10.

It now awaits committee hearings in the Ohio Senate.

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