The Ohio House of Representatives recently unveiled its version of the state budget bill (Substitute House Bill 33). Among its proposals is the elimination of state retention requirements when third graders struggle with significant reading deficiencies. Enacted in 2012 as part of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, this provision requires schools to provide intensive interventions to third graders who fall well short of state literacy standards, while delaying their promotion to the fourth grade.
“Far from guaranteeing that all Ohio children can read fluently, the House’s short-sighted proposal would subject thousands of students to years of frustration and disappointment,” said Aaron Churchill, Ohio Research Director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Make no mistake: If this provision is removed, schools will relapse into ‘social promotion,’ a harmful practice that sets up students for long-term academic failure, and social and emotional stress. Too many will eventually drop out of school and struggle to find jobs as adults; some will become entangled in the criminal justice system.”
Rigorous studies from Florida, Indiana, and Mississippi indicate that early-grade retention and intervention significantly boost student achievement, and help prevent academic failure and costly remediation later in high school. No study of similar rigor has been undertaken in Ohio, but pre-pandemic data indicate progress in third-grade reading achievement since the Third Grade Guarantee’s enactment.
“More than ten years ago, Ohio lawmakers decided it was better to intervene early than to wait until it’s too late,” continued Churchill. “That made sense then, and it still makes sense today. Unfortunately, the House has flinched when it comes third grade retention, backing down under pressure from adults instead of doing what’s right for kids. Lawmakers should reverse this misstep, and continue to ensure that all students have the foundational skills needed to become strong, lifelong readers.”