Eye on Education

Gov. Kasich’s 2012 Education Agenda Includes Third Grade Reading Requirement

Office of the Governor

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, pictured reading at right, wants third graders to pass the third grade state reading test in order to advance to fourth grade.

Gov. John Kasich wants state legislators to require third graders to pass the third-grade state reading test in order to advance to fourth grade. That third-grade reading requirement is just one of the legislative changes he told the state Board of Education he plans to present to state lawmakers this week, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

The Dispatch says Kasich’s other education priorities include a package of changes proposed by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson plus ”a new and tougher grading system for schools, curriculum guidelines for digital education, and reporting academic performance at technical schools.”

That new grading system is the one proposed in Ohio’s application for a waiver from some parts of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Not on the table this year: a new school-funding formula.

The idea behind the third-grade reading requirement is that it’s important for students to read by third grade in order to master other subjects. Plus, the requirement is intended to focus schools’ and parents’ attention on third-grade reading.

It’s a policy that comes into favor periodically, a researcher told the Harvard Education Letter last time around in 1999:

“It follows a seven- or eight-year cycle,” says retention researcher Lorrie Shepard, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Right now, politicians are seeing retention as the remedy. Once they feel the negative side effects, they’ll back off.”

Ohio is one of several states, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, that recently approved or are introducing — or reintroducing — the idea now, according to the Wall Street Journal. Other states, including Florida and Texas, have already had similar requirements in place for about a decade.

But in many states, loopholes allow children who fail the reading test to be promoted anyway. In Indiana, students who fail the reading test can still technically advance to fourth grade; they just have to stay enrolled in third grade reading instruction and re-take the third grade reading test. In Tennessee, students can advance if they get tutoring over the summer. Texas recently scrapped its third-grade reading requirement, but had allowed students who failed the reading test to advance if school officials and their parents thought they could succeed in fourth grade. Most did.

Ohio attempted to put a reading requirement for fourth graders in place in 1997, under the Voinovich administration. The Fordham Institute says it was supposed to take effect in the 2001-02 school year, but was watered down in the face of opposition from “everyone from parents’ groups to teacher unions.”



  • Marcus Quintillian

    A 2002-2003 study of 99,000 Florida fourth-graders found that students who were retained in third grade performed better than similar students who had been socially promoted the year before. The study by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters casts doubt on the current fashion of socially promoting students year after year. Rather than retain students for a second year at an appropriate level of instruction, we promote them to a more difficult level where they have little chance of performing well on appropriate state testing. The claim by the education establishment has always been that students at risk will be provided with individual instruction to fill in what they have missed. State test results tell a different story, with some high schools reporting as many as 30% of their entering freshmen still reading at fourth-grade level or below.
    If schools are not making Adequate Yearly Progress, it may well be the fault of social promotion, not unreasonable testing standards. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the bipartisan education act co-authored by Ted Kennedy, John Boehner, and others, evaluates performance according to the grade in which the school has chosen to place the students, not according to how old they are. Students reading at the third-grade level will be shown as proficient if they are placed in third grade, in need of remediation if they have been promoted to fourth grade, and below basic if they have been promoted even further. Schools which wish to show adequate yearly progress should stop promoting students who are not proficient and instead hire additional third-grade teachers as Florida has done.
    Florida Department of Education Director of K-12 Test Administration Susie Lee said 29 percent of Florida’s third-graders were held back when the program began in 2001. By 2011, only 16 percent were held back.
    Likewise, Lee said, 57 percent of third-graders were reading at grade level in 2001 while 72 percent were doing so last year.
    She said students who are struggling are given extra help until they can reach the appropriate grade level and some students can move on to fourth grade even if they don’t meet requirements under a “good case exception” in certain circumstances.
    “We generally see a bump (in grade-level reading) each year,” Lee said. “I think the program is meeting its goals.”

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