Passed in 2012, Ohio’saims to ensure that all children have the foundational literacy skills needed for success in middle school and beyond. The guarantee calls for supports that start early—when students enter kindergarten—as Ohio schools must screen for language deficiencies and, if necessary, begin providing extra help. From first through third grade, schools continue to identify children struggling to read and are charged with taking steps to improve their reading skills. The guarantee then requires schools to hold back students who still have difficulty reading by the end of third grade.
In recent articles, I’ve examined the guarantee’s policies in more detail, including itsfor K–3 students and the that third graders have to meet. This piece concludes the series by looking at what occurs after a student falls short of state reading requirements in third grade.
What comes next for students is crucial. First, given fair concerns about children losing contact with peers, it’s important to offer them opportunities to move forward as soon as they demonstrate readiness. Second,and basic common sense suggest that retained children benefit most when they receive not only the “gift of time,” but also effective instruction and intervention. Retention can’t be more of the same. On both counts—offering multiple chances for promotion and encouraging successful intervention—Ohio’s reading guarantee does a very respectable job. Still, as noted below, legislators could strengthen policy in a few ways.
When do students have opportunities to move ahead? There are several points at which they can demonstrate readiness.
- Summer after third grade. Schools may choose to administer the third grade state ELA exam or an approved diagnostic test to give third graders another opportunity to meet promotional requirements. If students meet those standards during the summer, they can move to fourth grade. While most schools likely offer summer assessments, lawmakers should ensure that any third grader still working to meet standards gets another opportunity to demonstrate readiness by requiring schools to offer summer testing.
- Fall promotion to fourth grade—in other subjects. Perhaps little known is that a third grader who does not meet reading requirements can move to fourth grade in other subjects—provided they’ve demonstrated proficiency in those areas. Though still technically third graders, eligible students can move ahead right alongside their peers in math, science, and social studies.
- Mid-year promotion. Ohio requires districts to create a policy that allows promotion midway through a retained student’s repeated third grade year. State law, however, doesn’t specify the promotional standard for mid-year promotion, only saying that it may occur if “the student is reading at or above grade level.” Permitting mid-year promotions is wise, but lawmakers should clarify that students need to meet the same standards that apply in other circumstances. In the case of mid-year promotion, retained students should be expected to have achieved a passing score on the fall administration of either the state ELA exam or a state-approved diagnostic test.
- Spring or summer of the repeated third grade. Retained students who achieve promotional benchmarks in the spring or summer of their repeated third grade year can move to fourth grade in the fall.
- Promotion after two years of intensive intervention and third grade retention. For students not meeting reading standards after being retained in third grade, state law waives promotional requirements if they’ve received two years of “intensive intervention.” This exemption seems to allow promotion for some students who do not meet promotional standards after a repeated third-grade. It also explicitly allows any student to transition to fourth grade after two years of third grade retention.
Turning to the question of interventions, schools are required under state law to offer retained students “intensive interventions.” That’s an essential ingredient, but the guarantee doesn’t prescribe specific actions. The relevant passage states (emphasis mine):
The remediation services shall include intensive interventions in reading … and may include any of the following: (i) Small group instruction; (ii) Reduced teacher-student ratios; (iii) More frequent progress monitoring; (iv) Tutoring or mentoring; (v) Transition classes containing third and fourth grade students; (vi) Extended school day, week, or year; (vii) Summer reading camps.
This flexibility is likely essential, given students’ different reading deficiencies and the varying strategies that may be needed to remedy them. However, state lawmakers could take a stronger stand in a couple ways:
- Require summer offerings. Summer programing shouldn’t be a mere suggestion, but rather a required offering that gives third graders additional learning opportunities before summer testing. Legislators could even put some extra oomph behind these efforts by allocating funds to ensure summer programs are top-notch and working well for students still progressing towards reading standards.
- Require instruction that aligns with the science of reading. To reiterate a recommendation from my , lawmakers could make clear that K–3 students with a reading improvement plan are to receive instruction that aligns with the . This proposal would apply to retained students, too, since they also have an improvement plan.
The reading guarantee includes some sensible guidelines about which educators may instruct retained students. They must have at least one year of classroom experience (though not necessarily in reading) and meet one of six criteria, which include holding an elementary or middle school teaching license or having a reading endorsement. First-year educators may also teach if they meet one of the six conditions and are mentored by a more experienced teacher.
Overall, Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee has the right aims and the policy building blocks that encourage schools to prioritize early literacy and help children make progress. Screening and literacy supports start early and continue through third grade. Despite theabout them, the retention and intervention provisions ensure that students get the extra time and help they need. With some strengthening, state lawmakers can build on this foundation and make certain—“guarantee,” if you will—that all Ohio children have the ability to read.
 The law doesn’t appear to require that the intensive interventions occur in third grade, so it’s possible that some students would have received intensive interventions prior to it.