The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
The Third Grade Reading Guarantee remains one of the most hotly-debated policies in Ohio’s education system, but it may cease to exist come next year.
Third graders have a big task at the end of their school year. How they score on the English language arts assessment will determine if they make it to fourth grade, or if they are held back.
“William’s challenges with reading have persisted since the COVID break,” mother-of-two Kristen Kalonick said.
Kalonick’s son is in the third grade. After her daughter was held back due to a learning disability, she knows what that can do to his development.
“They go through a different kind of psychological adjustment with that and then there can be a stigma attached to it,” she said. “For him, it’s certainly a real risk.”
Ohio Excels’ Lisa Gray brings up an Ohio Department of Education study that shows students who aren’t reading proficiently by the end of third grade are three times more likely than their proficient peers to not graduate on time.
“If we keep promoting kids and they’re not proficient readers, they are going to continue to struggle,” Gray said.
Solon Democratic state Rep. Phil Robinson cites a study done by OSU, which shows the only thing the exam does is give students anxiety, disproportionately impact low-income students and create a stigma around learning disabilities.
“We haven’t seen any meaningful, significant improvement, actually, in fourth-grade reading proficiency levels,” Robinson said.
He proposed House Bill 497 with state Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) which would eliminate the state-mandated student retention provision. It would also only require students to take the assessment once per year, but keeps provisions for support programs for struggling readers.
The bill has already passed the House nearly unanimously and it is in the Senate now.
The bill doesn’t address the real problem, though, Gray added.
“Don’t just remove the retention component and not replace that with something that is going to better guarantee these kids a shot of success,” she said.
The lawmaker added that although his current bill doesn’t address funding or additional resources for literacy, he is currently working on a new bill that does.
The State Board of Education’s Tim Miller, a moderate Republican-leaning board member from Akron, said this is where targeting comes in.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” Miller said. “I don’t like the retention part.”
Miller has made literacy one of his largest priorities while on the board. He can’t do much in terms of implementing policy, so he is trying to find another way to help out students, educators and families.
“Part of the budget that we’re sending to the governor’s office and to the legislature asks for funding for these kinds of things,” he added.
He is currently working on a resolution to send to the lawmakers to pause or stop the retention policies, he said. However, he wants to have solutions to the problem and also get input from students themselves, family members and educators.
He hasn’t been able to do as much work on expanding literacy due to the culture wars existing in the school board, he said. The previous board meetings have had hundreds of people ready to testify about a resolution that would oppose Title IX protections for LGBTQ+ students.
He spearheaded a delay in the vote on the resolution following the contentious meeting on Oct. 12, saying the board needed to focus more on the kids and less on the “parent’s rights” activists.
Despite each of the positions Kalonick, Gray, Robinson and Miller have, all agree that they just want what is best for the kids, and to focus on making the children more successful.
“Keep the intent around the reading help and support, but maybe rethink the retention policy,” Kalonick said.
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