Eye on Education



All About the Third Grade Reading Guarantee


Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee says that starting with students entering third grade in 2013-14, schools cannot promote to fourth grade students who score below a certain level on the state reading test. That level is slightly below the actual passing score on the state reading test, the Ohio Achievement Assessment.

Exceptions apply to students who are learning English and in special education programs and to students who have been behind in reading in past years, have been held back before and have received extra help. Students can also be promoted if they pass a state-approved alternate reading test, i.e., a different test from the OAA.

For the 2012-13 school year, a gentler version of the third grade reading guarantee is in effect.

In 2012-13, schools can still promote students who don’t pass the third grade reading test if the principal and student’s reading teacher agree that the student is prepared academically for fourth grade. They can also promote students who don’t pass the third grade reading test if the school provides extra help with reading in fourth grade.

Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee was part of a package of education policy backed by Gov. John Kasich and approved by state lawmakers in spring 2012 as part of Senate Bill 316.

In addition to requiring students who don’t score high enough on the state reading test to be held back, the third grade reading guarantee also comes with a host of new requirements for testing students’ reading abilities starting in kindergarten and ensuring struggling readings have teachers who are able to help them get up to speed.


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:

“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, have had a 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.”

Not a Magic Fix

According to the non-partisan Education Commission of the States, holding a student back isn’t the magic fix for improving reading education. The states and school districts that have seen the most success in requiring students to pass a reading test to advance to the next grade level generally pair that requirement with close monitoring of small class sizes and intensive, personalized help.

The commission says that retention policies may generate “a sense of urgency for improving early reading proficiency, similar improvements in student achievement might well be achieved through identification and intervention — without the need for retention.”

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