For a Governor and political party that professes to want a smaller government, Ohio’s Republicans sure seem to like laws that impose greater government control over our personal lives.

One latest example that doesn’t involve a uterus is Governor Kasich’s proposal to implement a “guarantee” that all children are proficient readers before being allowed to move on to the 4th grade.  His explanation is that students who aren’t able to pass the third grade reading test are less likely to graduate from high school and should therefore be held back for (at least) a year.

In fact, Kasich says if students get to third grade and fail the state exam, they won’t be moved on to the fourth grade.

Kasich says, “that is doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice.” (StateImpact, 3/16/12)

Kasich wants the infinitely wise and ever-changing Ohio government to take control over these decisions that should be preserved for the parents and educators who know these children.  Parents like my wife and me as we faced this very decision with our oldest son.

In the summer before our son would be transitioning from 2nd to 3rd grade, we we’re moving houses and school districts.  School was not easy for him though he was always “a pleasure to have in class.” His struggles with reading were adversely affecting his performance across the board, and we faced a decision about what we should do to help.  The change of schools and the new group of friends seemed like a perfect chance to consider retaining him and avoid the social stigma associated with such a choice.  Working against us was the fact that he was already a physically imposing kid and his size would certainly cause him to stick out among a group of children a year younger.  What to do?

Consult an expert and gather some data, of course.

I asked a trusted co-worker who is a reading specialist to please assess him for reading and provide a recommendation.  I explained our concerns and the scenario in detail so she knew the ramifications.  She read a variety of leveled books with him, spending an hour or more documenting his strengths and weaknesses.  And there were a lot of weaknesses, to be frank.  But I vividly remember how she summed up his final reading passage that was on his expected grade level.  She said, “The last reading was pretty rough,” as she showed me her notes marking up her copy of the passage making it virtually unreadable. “When he was finished, I wouldn’t have been able to retell you what he read, but he was able to summarize the piece perfectly. He definitely needs help with his reading skill, but his comprehension is outstanding.”

We opted not to hold him back that year and he continued to struggle for the next few years, always the thoughtful, caring student, but all the while facing reading challenges as his teachers continued to find ways to assist him.  He was a year prior to the implementation of the third-grade Ohio Achievement Test in Reading, but he was not proficient in either grade 4 or grade 5.

The peak of our frustration came in his fifth grade year when his teacher, also frustrated a bit with us, remarked that she needed to instruct our son using methods that were heavily reliant on him reading new information independently, writing his responses independently, and then taking tests that were exclusively reading and writing.  This couldn’t be modified for him because, in her words, “That’s the way it is done on the state tests and we need to prepare him for that.”

And with that I nearly snapped.  “We don’t care about the test,” I told her. “He’s not going to pass that test this year.  We simply want him to have a chance to learn and demonstrate some growth in your classroom.”

That was in 2006.  Yes, state-mandated testing wrongly drove public schools’ instructional decisions even then.

After his 5th grade year was finished and he was preparing to go to middle school, my wife stumbled on some information that led us to a diagnosis of dyslexia, a condition much more complex than reversing letters and numbers (look it up — it’s quite fascinating).  We ended up sending him to a private school for his 6th grade year that specifically worked with dyslexic children, was unbelievably expensive, and was not beholden to the burden of state-mandated standardized testing.  During that year he thrived and his ability to read grew by leaps and bounds.

We moved once again and enrolled him in a middle school with an amazing staff that understood our perspective on de-emphasizing the need to teach our son how to pass the tests and even appreciated our desire to help him learn and provide creative methods to allow him to demonstrate his academic growth.  As a result of the work of all of his various teachers and his own continued effort, he actually passed the proficient mark in Reading on the Ohio Achievement Test in his 8th grade year.  The moment was challenging as we still didn’t honor the standardized test as a judgement of his learning, yet the emphasis at the school level obviously pushed us to acknowledge his achievement and his continued effort.

Now, four years after that accomplishment and two years after a first-try passage of the Ohio Graduation Test in Reading, our oldest son’s high school graduation is set to occur right on time.

I would be lying if I said it has been easy for any of us, least of all him.  But holding him back a year in 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th grade would not have resulted in a positive difference for any of us.  Perhaps he would have received additional tutoring at the elementary school, but his diagnosis of dyslexia would only have been delayed and those teachers were so consumed with pushing students toward proficiency on a test requiring such discrete skills that they likely would not have been able to make the switch back to the days when student learning was more important than student test results.

Today, thanks to Governor Kasich and our Republican-dominated legislature, those test scores are more pervasive than ever.  And I can only imagine that those teachers are more focused than ever on tests scores over learning.  The Governor’s push to change these educational measures by changing state laws is a case where the state has again exercised greater control over the rights of local communities.

And in tomorrow’s Ohio, my wife and I would no longer be entitled to make that important educational decision about our son.  Instead, Governor Kasich wants the State of Ohio to decide our child’s future regardless of our ability to provide an education opinion.

The failure of an 8-year-old child to demonstrate proficiency in reading on a state-mandated, and ultra-secretive standardized test on one single day out of the year in a setting that is distinctly out of the norm should in no way be viewed as a conclusive evaluation of that child’s ability read, nor should it be used as a fail proof means of determining that child’s legal ability to move to the next grade.

And while Governor Kasich obviously disagrees with me by claiming that promoting students to the next grade would be “doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice,” he can tell that to my son, a boy who was not deemed a proficient reader by the state of Ohio until the 8th grade and is now a proud on-time member of the Class of 2012.



  • Annbaughmancox

    Your column just made me happy.  I’m so glad you were your child’s advocate and that he got the good teaching that he needed.  Congratulations.

  • katiekat

    Many teachers are frustrated by all this testing–we want to be able to teach and help our students learn without the pressure from EVERYONE to have our student’s score high on an arbitrary test.  Please know that many teachers are with you in wanting the emphasis moved from can a student perform on a test to has the student learned the information they need to be successful in life.

  • Anon

    My son also struggled with reading, and math.  In First Grade they told me he was struggling and he took summer school to pass, in Second grade the teacher told me the same thing and he was sent to summer school again…It just happens that my son is one of those rare kids that scores very well in standardized tests.

    The week he started summer school for grade two, I got a letter in the mail that he had scored SO high on the Terra Nova test in math that he was going to be in the gifted program for math.

    My son is now a sophomore in high school, he is taking honors English, honors Geometry, honors history, and is in a full course load without a study hall because he is taking Orchestra as well.  Next year he is taking 3 AP courses and using the PSEOP option for a foreign language.He struggled all through elementary school, and except for second grade he had excellent teachers.  He struggled all through middle school-he was sick in 6th grade and missed a great deal of school-in 7th grade my mother got sick with cancer and died-and in 8th grade we were still recovering from my mother’s illness (I took care of her, it had a huge impact).

    When he hit high school it all changed, he literally blossomed and his academics totally becamehis main focus.  It all turned around.  He will definitely finish school on time, even though way back in elementary school he was struggling so much. 

    Sometimes you have to be patient and it is like a light switch gets tripped and suddenly some kids will figure stuff out.  Or, like your son, an important diagnosis will be made that will change everything. 

    I wish legislators would stay the hell out of medical decisions and I wish they would stay the hell out of educational decisions!  They are not doctors and they are not educators and as long as that is true they need to not be trying to practice these without a license.

  • What would Kasich do about children who do not test well but do grade level work in reading during the rest of the school year?   Some children just don’t do well on standardized tests!

  • amyvav

    Wonderful to hear about your family’s success!!

    I seem to recall that when the first round of testing – the Ohio Proficiency Test – hit, we were supposed to hold back students who didn’t pass. That quickly went by the wayside as it was realized that it was not feasible, realistic, or in the best interests of anyone. One cannot even imagine the complications that arise with students with IEP’s, students who transfer in close to test time, students who test poorly, students who are facing difficulties (such as a death or illness in the family) on test day… the list is endless – as would be, one would hope, the lawsuits from concerned families such as yours.

    What a shame that we have to fight so hard for what should be the right of all our children: a reasonable, meaningful, fair education provided by caring, professionals who are respected and compensated.

  • Berik

    I thought the articel read “Kasich’s Third-Grade Reading Level,” which would make  a whole lot of sense…

  • Dmoore2222

    Why would anyone think that this simpleton of a governor who couldn’t grasp something as simple as the unconstitutionality of appointing a non-resident to a cabinet position would be capapble of understanding the complexities of the reading process? Of course he’s made his living as a politician by reducing every issue to bumper sticker dimensions. So it’s not surprising that he thinks what was a total failure in the previous 4th grade reading guarantee would be a success for him. Just beat up on a younger kid and everything will be fine. God save us!

  • I love to hear about these  success stories. It’s wonderful.

    Unfortunately, because the almighty State Of Ohio is going to pay teachers’ wages based on test performance, teachers will be forced to do more remediation on testing skills. This will be at the expense of children like yours.

    Forcing an 8-year-old to redo an entire year because they messed up on one tiny test is a miserable idea.

  • You must remember that John Kasich would never ask real classroom teachers for their input, unless they were the chairman of a Fairfield County GOP like Kyle Farmer. As a former reading teacher, I can tell you that there are many ways to assess reading and our arrogant, anti-public school governor doesn’t know anything about educating children. When a child is held back in school, it does serious damage to their ego.  The only grade that a child could/should be retained might be kindergarten. 

    If a child is having difficulty reading, the best advice is to get as much help as possible.  As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate. Demand help. Demand a reading tutor. Demand adjustments to programs if necessary.  Allow your child to be tested for learning differences, dyslexia, hearing/vision, etc. 

    Kasich’s idea to hold a child back until they pass a state test is absolutely ridiculous.  Some people don’t test well. What are teachers going to do with 15 year old third graders?

    By the way, wasn’t there a story a few years ago that Kasich had to hire a tutor because one of his children had done so poorly in math?  Would he allow his children to be held back?

  • Dmoore2222

    Very good post. This is typical of politicians using education as a labratory for their half-baked ideas in hopes of looking smart. The reading process is of a complexity way beyond most of these jerks’ understanding. They’re all too lazy to inform themselves of this and just how bad an idea holding a child back is.

  • Retrofuturistic

    The only thing Kasich knows about education is that it can be profitable if you find a way to privatize it….

  • Justbritton79

    Children who are held back are LESS likely to graduate high school. Our Governor needs to do further research.  The government making the laws are not experts in education.

  • There are so many stories like this as children are not being properly screened and treated for vision difficulties which can affect learning to read. Holding the child back in third grade will do nothing to help the student. They will lose confidence and might even give up. Gov. Kasich doesn’t have a clue.

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