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Ohio lawmakers agree third grade reading test should continue, disagree on the high stakes of it

Lisa F. Young,

Ohio lawmakers are debating changes to high-stakes reading tests that can hold students back in third grade.

Since 2013, Ohio third graders are tested in reading and if they don't perform at grade level, they can be required to repeat that grade. For the past few years, the retention part of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee has been put on hold.

Most Ohio lawmakers say they want to keep that assessment and provide more assistance for kids who aren't performing well. But are split on the retention part of the program.

The Ohio House passed a bill earlier this week that retains the third grade reading test. State Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), a former third grade teacher herself and the bill sponsor, said her bill does away with automatically holding kids back.

“Parents will have to give their consent in order to retain a child. It does not do away with retention, but it does do away with mandatory retention because of one state test that we give," Manning said.

Tying retention solely to the test is a bad idea, she said.

"I've had calls from parents over the past few months — a call from a father who said his straight-A daughter had missed by one point and would be retained because of that," Manning said.

Manning said her bill would require parents to sit down with teachers to decide the best course of action for a student who fails the test. Her bill also eliminates a language arts test because teachers don’t have enough time to incorporate feedback from the results.

The bill also requires teaching phonics and training on how to teach the art of sounding out words. And it gives intervention to kids who need extra help.

The senate has included its version of the third grade reading guarantee in its recently passed budget. And state Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said retention is a key part of that plan.

“The evidence has shown that the kids who are retained do better,” he said.

The retention part of it also prompts students, teachers and parents to take the third grade reading test seriously, Huffman said.

The Senate version of the guarantee also calls for more intervention for kids who aren't reading on grade level and requires phonics be taught.

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), a former special education teacher, likes parts of the guarantee and sees room for compromise ahead.

"There might be a middle path with that, and I hope so," Antonio said.

Antonio said the senate plan refers to "mastery" and she added that could be a problem for students with special needs. She said education experts should consulted.

"To make sure that we are not retaining kids to really put them on a path that marks with with the stigma going forward and that the stigma gets in the way of actually achieving their highest potential," Antonio said.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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