Finding accurate information about the state’s plan to retain third grade children who are performing poorly in reading has been challenging.  Even State Superintendent Heffner is having a problem with the actual impact of the law if the Columbus Dispatch is to be believed.

“State Superintendent Stan Heffner estimated that roughly 15,000 third-graders would have missed the mark and been held back.”  (Columbus Dispatch, 4/26/12)

As also noted in the article, 15,000 students would represent nearly 12% of Ohio’s current third grade students.

This is ridiculous, we need to end the discussion of this plan once and for all by explaining it through an accurate look at the numbers. (Since ODE and Heffner won’t seem to oppose it.)

First, some background. The third grade retention plan is a component of Senate Bill 316 that specifically revises section 3313.608 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).  In this section of code, school districts are required to follow certain procedures for students who score in the “limited” range on the third grade Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA).  The language specifically states:

…for any student who attains a score in the range designated under division (A)(2)(c) of section 3301.0710 of the Revised Code on the assessment prescribed under that section to measure skill in English language arts expected at the end of third grade…

Looking at that reference to ORC 3301.0710, we can see the specific language:

3301.0710  (A)(2) The state board shall determine and designate at least three ranges of scores on each of the achievement assessments described in divisions (A)(1) and (B)(1) of this section. Each range of scores shall be deemed to demonstrate a level of achievement so that any student attaining a score within such range has achieved one of the following:

(a) An advanced level of skill;

(b) A proficient level of skill;

(c) A limited level of skill.

Those familiar with Ohio testing may note right away that this section has only three possible outcomes, not the five that are reported on state report cards.  With this knowledge in hand, we learn that the students who would be in danger of being retained are only those who score “limited,” the lowest possible scoring range.  In Ohio last year, 7.3% of all third graders scored in this range on the reading test (see chart below).

As is shown above, approximately 9,500 third graders would likely be retained as directed by the Ohio Government.  Not because of an informed decision by their teachers, their principal, or their parents, but because the Governor and state legislators deem it to be necessary.

So why is it not an absolute certainty that these children will be retained?  The bill does permit a school to promote a proficient reader who simply had the worst testing day of his entire life.  But for those who have been struggling for years, there is no outlet:

A school may promote the student to fourth grade “except that a student who has been on a reading improvement and monitoring plan under division (C) of this section for two or more years shall not be promoted”

The language about a reading improvement and monitoring plan is new to this law and, in short, requires schools to give the state-adopted English language arts diagnostic test to every student in grades K-3 (before October 31).  If the student is below grade level in reading, then the district shall provide intervention services to each student reading below grade level. Such intervention services shall include instruction targeted at the student’s identified reading deficiencies.  Where I’m from, we simply call that “school.”

Now, however, the low-performing students and/or struggling readers who receive this assistance and obtain score of limited on the third grade test will be retained in third grade.  The odds are low that a student obtaining a score in that lowest range did so in error, or surprised the teacher.  The truth is, students scoring so low have already been identified and pulled aside for intervention for years, thus qualifying for the Government’s retention plan.

So in July before their fourth grade year, we can expect 9,000 students to receive the call that they won’t be moving on with their peers.

That’s right, in July (at the earliest).  Sometime between late June and early July is when the OAA results are returned to schools in their unverified format.  Thus, sometime in mid-summer is when schools will have the unenviable task of contacting parents to tell them their plans for the next school year have changed.  And those 9,500 parents get to let their children know that a rerun of third grade is in their future.

But there is hope…

If the student participates in the remediation services and demonstrates reading proficiency in accordance with standards adopted by the department prior to the start of fourth grade, the district shall promote the student to that grade.

Absent from the bill is any mention of what will happen to a student of they score outside of the limited level on the October implementation of the Reading OAA or even reach the proficient level as 59% of students already do every year.  Would the student be bumped back up with their fourth grade peers?  We don’t advance the other 59% of students who score well on the test, but they haven’t already run through the state-adopted third grade curriculum as our low-performing student has.

So that’s a bit inconvenient, but it’s nothing compared to the problems faced by the 72 Ohio schools that only go through 3rd grade.  Based on last year’s statistics, those schools will be notifying nearly 300 families that their child won’t be moving on to the next school as planned, returning to the building that likely just celebrated their advancement one month earlier.

If you are a parent, I hope you are appalled at the audacity of Governor Kasich to implement this plan with the complete disregard for parental input on the education of your child.  If you are concerned that your third grade child may be held back as a result of this provision, I recommend you play your own game – un-enroll your child with one week remaining in the school year under the premise of home-school him/her.  Maintain this status through the summer when the OAA results are released After fourth-grade begins, re-enroll your child back into the school as a fourth grader.

I’d suggest you air your concerns with the Governor, but he obviously doesn’t want your opinion.

Finally, the bill is still in the Senate Education Committee, though it will be passed on to the full Senate very soon.  You can contact Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner at (614) 466-4538 or by email at

Tell Senator Lehner that we don’t want the Legislators taking away the rights of parents and teachers to determine the best educational choices for our children.



  • Daisey

    Is I.Q. ever taken into account?  How can a child with a 70 I.Q. compete with those of much higher I.Q.s?  To get the average you have to have highs and lows.

  • duckmonkeyman

    What if the child does well in math but not reading? Do they partially advance?

  • Anastasjoy

    Why is the party that is constantly screeching about “less government” now laying down rigid (if confusing) guidelines for what schools need to do with particular students? Why are they micro-meddling in this?

  • livenlearn621

    If a struggling district has 40 or more children in elementary classrooms there’s a pretty good chance they aren’t getting the quality instruction they need.  How would a district in these circumstances have the resources to provide intervention?

     If a child has been in a good intervention program for 2 years and is still not making progress, it seems likely that special ed services might be more appropriate.

    This has nothing to do with improving education.

  • Xx

    If the “third grade retention plan” plan is to retain kids in third grade, I would say it is working.

  • gregmild

    Excellent point.

  • gregmild

    It seems like I’m seeing that occur more and more with this administration.

  • Retrofuturistic

    It’s not fair that standards are enforced on third graders but the citizens of Ohio have no Recall Provision with which to enforce standards on their governor.

  • leeseh

    That is my question also.  I would have had no trouble with reading.   Math, due to a congenital disease, is extremely difficult.  So, what would have happened? 

  • gregmild

    The proposal only speaks to the student’s results on the Reading test.

  • gregmild

    I don’t actually agree with that argument too much.  Technically speaking, the number of overall students does not change in the short term, so the teachers would just need to be reallocated from 4th grade.  If the students are unable to be advanced to 4th in a timely manner, then over the long term we would theoretically have fewer students exiting the system than we had entering and could end up with a greater need for teachers in grade three, but that would take a while to build up.  There are points to argue against this bill, but I simply don’t think claiming a need for more 3rd grade teachers is a strong one.

  • Carrieee4

    This was tried befor with the 4 th grade about 10 or so years ago with No Child Left
    Behind and again it all is a sham. All a school has to do is have them go to summer school for two weeks and they can move on. Give me a break! a student who scores that low does not learn what they are missing in those two weeks. To top that off a large amount of those students are special Ed students who you cannot be retain. Really these law makers need to go back to school and study their subject du jour!
    ” lawmakers ” are not educators! They don’t know what they are talking about. if they are going to retain a student which I am not against then retain them with no way out. Either you pass or not. Excluding special Ed students.

  • livenlearn621

    Agreed- Do you know if there’s a provision that says how many years they can stay in third grade?

  • gregmild

    I have not seen anything that I would interpret as a limit.  Reading the bill literally tells me that the child can only be advanced if they score highly enough on the test.  I would guess that the other option of implementing an IEP with the appropriate criteria would be enacted if a problem persisted.  Lot’s of frightening ambiguity.

  • duckmonkeyman

    Workaround – students are retained in “third” grade intervention classes for reading. Since the law is ambiguous, this satisfies the retention requirement. The students advance to fourth grade for all other classes. I would imagine IEP students are exempt due to Least Restrictive Environment conflicts but they could share the same intervention if they need help on reading.

  • Tmbaker102

    Has anybody looked at the data on retention???  Students that are retained are much more likely to drop out of school, have serious social issues, have trouble with the law etc… The list goes on.  When my daughter was in first grade, her teacher told me that if she did not pass the 4th grade reading test, she would be retained.  This was called the Fourth Grade Guarantee.  I told her this would not happen to my daughter, and it was something any lawyer could handle, due to the amount of research that overwhelming proves that in at least 90% of the cases, retention causes more harm than good.  It is baffling to me that retention is still used in schools.  

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