Close up of a group of elementary school kids doing schoolwork on their laptops. Getty Images.
The Ohio Education Association is urging the Ohio Senate to take up House Bill 497 this fall. If passed, the bill will eliminate the mandatory retention of third graders who do not score proficiently on Ohio standardized literacy tests.
The legislation has the bipartisan sponsorship of North Ridgeville Republican state Rep. Gayle Manning and Solon Democratic state Rep. Phil Robinson.
Christina Collins, who sits on the Ohio State Board of Education, argued test scores can be misleading.
“Policymakers have become solely reliant on data to tell narratives about the successes or lack thereof in districts schools, students, and student achievement,” Collins said.
Ultimately, she added, repeating the third grade leaves students worse off.
“On average, since the 2013-2014 school year, Ohio has retained around 3,628 students per year,” Collins said. “On their second time taking the test, on average, only 14% were proficient.”
Paul Thomas, a professor at Furman University, also pointed out inequities. He said the policy disproportionately impacts students of color, those living in poverty, English learners, and students with special needs. Thomas has argued that retaining students in the third grade is correlated with high dropout rates and behavior problems.
“Grade retention should be a decision made among educators and parents, not by a caveat, and not by a ‘one size fits all’ policy,” Thomas said.
Numbers from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection presented by Thomas in a white paper show that in the 2017-18 school year, more than 50% of students retained were Black, 30% were white, 11% Hispanic, 16% were living with disabilities, and 10% were English language learners.
Ohio Revised Code Section 3313.608 prohibits, with limited exceptions, promoting to fourth grade any student who does not meet a minimum score on the third-grade English language arts assessment. The legislation is part of the “third-grade reading guarantee.”
OEA president Scott Dimauro called the law “arbitrary.”
“Mandatory retention under the so-called ‘Third Grade Reading Guarantee’ takes decisions about students’ futures out of the hands of parents, administrators, and teachers who know them best, allowing politicians in Columbus to determine their fates based on arbitrary cut-scores on high-stakes English language arts tests,” Scott DiMauro said.
The bill passed the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee unanimously, passed the Ohio House in June with 82 in favor and 10 against, and was introduced to the Senate the following week. It has not yet moved forward from there since.
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