Although it’s a brand-new year, many Ohio students are still caught in the education riptide of the pandemic era. Achievement in reading and math has improved from the horrific lows of 2020–21, but students remain behind. In math, for example, just 53 percent of students met grade-level proficiency standards last year, down from 61 percent in 2018–19. Achievement gaps remain unacceptably wide, and chronic absenteeism is pervasive. To turn the tide, schools and students need all hands on deck. But many of the most important hands—those that belong to parents and families—may not fully realize the challenges facing their children.
Consider a 2023 report published by Learning Heroes, a nonprofit group that seeks to equip parents to support their child’s education. They found that nearly nine in ten parents nationwide believe their children are performing at or above grade level in reading and math, even though less than half are actually performing at grade level. This disconnect is largely a result of parents relying on report card grades as their primary source of information. The vast majority say that their kids are earning mostly A’s or B’s, and “understandably equate a good grade with grade-level achievement.”
But report cards measure much more than just achievement—things like class participation or group work might factor in, too—and grade inflation is rampant. As a result, they note, “relying on report cards in isolation could prevent parents from initiating crucial interventions.” Without a complete picture of student progress, it’s impossible for families to hold schools accountable for serving their children well or know when it’s time to make a change.
Fortunately, last year’s landmark state budget, House Bill 33, included two important provisions that could help Ohio parents get a better handle on their child’s achievement and empower them to make decisions accordingly. Both provisions must be implemented by districts beginning this year. Given that the state’s testing windows begin as early as March 25, state and district officials are hopefully already discussing how to implement these changes (and if they’re not, they should be). With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at each.
Faster delivery of a child’s state test scores to parents
After students complete state exams, the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) assembles test score reports that offer detailed information about how students performed in reading, math, and other subjects compared to state standards. DEW sends these reports to districts, which then distribute them to parents.
The vast majority of students finish testing by early May. Ideally, families would receive their score reports within a month or so—not just for the sake of an efficient and timely turnaround, but also because score reports can help parents decide when to get struggling students extra help (like tutoring over the summer) or when to make an even bigger change (like switching schools in the fall). Unfortunately, Ohio families haven’t historically been guaranteed a quick turnaround for state test results. Most have waited months to receive their child’s score report, leaving them little to no time to take advantage of the summer months or plan for the fall.
Thanks to HB 33, that’s about to change. Beginning this year, public and private schools will be required to provide score reports to families by June 30. This new deadline could require a great deal of administrative work for districts, especially those that have historically distributed reports via the postal service or students’ backpacks when they return in the fall, rather than through the more efficient means of email or a secure online portal (districts and schools have discretion in how test scores are reported to parents). It will also require the state to move more quickly, and to ensure that tests are still scored accurately despite the tighter turnaround. Both will be tall tasks. But when it comes to ensuring that parents have up-to-date and accurate data so they can make informed decisions, timeliness is necessary.
Intervention and parental engagement for struggling readers beyond third grade
Since 2012, Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee has required schools to administer diagnostic reading assessments to students in grades K–3, identify those who are off track, notify their parents, and create improvement plans. The original version of the Guarantee also required schools to retain students who, based on state assessments or state-approved alternative exams, didn’t meet reading standards by the end of third grade. Schools were required to provide these retained students with intensive reading interventions, such as summer school or tutoring.
Last year, after much complaining from school groups and despite strong evidence that it benefits students, lawmakers functionally ditched the retention requirement. Going forward, schools will be able to promote a student to fourth grade regardless of their reading level if their parent or guardian requests promotion after consulting with the student’s reading teacher and building principal.
In a perfect world, parents of children who do not meet third grade reading standards would receive all the information they need to make an informed decision between retention and promotion. That includes an accurate debrief on the extensive research demonstrating that retention benefits struggling readers, acknowledgment that social promotion might harm them in the long run, and a clear and specific outline of how the district plans to provide intensive intervention. However, given that the driving force behind eliminating retention was largely district administrators and teachers unions, the reality is that most consultations will result in a recommendation for parents to request promotion.
When that happens, districts will be off the hook for retention. But they won’t be off the hook for updating parents about their child’s progress and providing intensive intervention until the student reads at grade level. Under the previous policy, districts only had to provide intensive reading intervention for as long as a student was retained, which couldn’t be more than two years. Now, they’ll be responsible for providing intervention for as long as it takes for students to meet grade-level standards—even if that doesn’t happen until middle or high school—and keeping parents informed of their progress. This should give families additional opportunities not only to obtain accurate information from schools, but to hold them accountable for catching their kids up.
In schools across the state, thousands of students are still struggling to break free from the academic undertow of the pandemic. To help them catch up, educators and families will have to work together. But that’s only possible if parents have accurate, timely, and honest information about student progress and achievement. A quicker turnaround on state score reports and a new opportunity for parents to hold their local school accountable for their child’s progress are steps in the right direction.