If you’re a parent with a child in third grade this year, then you are probably aware of Ohio’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee law that puts added pressure on your son or daughter to score (nearly) proficient or greater on the state’s reading achievement test or else they will end up in summer school and most likely be retained.  A week ago, we wrote about how the total number of students expected to be retained this year is in the neighborhood of 19,000 statewide.

welcome to 3rd grade

The new law was written in such a way that it puts the onus on the school to take the action of retaining the student, eliminating any parental choice about the testing situation, including preventing parents from opting-out of the test.  If a parent were to keep their child home on testing day (and make-up testing day) in a statement of protest over standardized testing, then the child would receive a score of zero and would be required to participate in reading intervention and either be retained in third grade or forced to take the test during the newly-added summer administration.  The law ranks state governmental control over local and parental control concerning the education of children.

For most, that is.

The new law was written in such a way as to exempt certain students from the possibilities.  No, we’re not talking about those children on IEPs, already receiving intervention, or English-language learners that are specifically exempted in language included in the law.  There are thousands of other third grade students enrolled in schools for whom the law doesn’t even come into consideration.

In Ohio, the schools are labeled as chartered nonpublic schools.  You probably refer to them as private schools (e.g., parochial, many Christian schools, other private schools — not to be confused with “community/charter schools”).  The Third Grade Reading Guarantee law doesn’t apply to them.  One of the main reasons is that these schools aren’t required to administer the Ohio Achievement Assessments in grades 3-8 as the public schools are.  Ohio’s nonpublics are “permitted” to give the tests, but it is through, ironically, an “opt-in” process and the results of the tests are not published and have no ramifications as they do for the public school report cards.

Now, there are thousands of “public school” children attending many of Ohio’s private schools using Ohio’s public school funding dollars.  These children are using one of Ohio’s voucher programs – EdChoice being the largest.  The EdChoice voucher program is the one that Kasich and the Republican-dominated General Assembly have expanded exponentially as part of their ongoing effort to further privatize education across Ohio.  As the program was expanded to be open to more families than ever this year, students using the EdChoice voucher can attend one of hundreds of private schools with taxpayers picking up all or most of the tuition.

Any student using an EdChoice voucher, however, is required to take the state’s standardized tests, including third graders, but their results are meaningless — not a single child will be retained based on their outcome on the grade 3 reading OAA (if a school has over 65% of their student population, the school must administer tests to all students).

Why?  That’s the way Ohio’s pro-privatization Republican legislators wrote the laws.  It doesn’t matter who is paying the tuition — parents or taxpayers — Ohio’s private school students are entirely devoid of any impact by the law, and Ohio’s private schools are completely unaccountable for the results of the tests.

For Ohio’s EdChoice voucher recipients, there are three requirements for keeping and renewing the scholarship from one year to the next:

  1. They take all required state achievement tests for their grade level if they are in grades 3-8 and they take all parts of the Ohio Graduation Tests if they are in grade 10;
  2. They do not have more than 20 unexcused absences for the school year; and
  3. They do not move out of the school district in which they became eligible.

I want to reiterate — every 3rd grader using an EdChoice scholarship is required to take the reading OAA.  They take the test and results are even reported to the Ohio Department of Education.  But, since the EdChoice voucher program is a darling of the Republicans, they couldn’t allow it to have any negative aspects, including requiring the private schools to retain students using taxpayer dollars (as they are in the public schools), so they intentionally avoided linking the Third Grade Guarantee to these students.

In case you were still confused about this, the Ohio Department of Education states it clearly on their EdChoice website FAQs, updated to make it clear that no minimum score on the 3rd grade reading test is required:

My child received low scores on his Ohio Achievement Assessments this year. Can he still renew his scholarship?
Yes. There is no particular score that EdChoice students are required to get on the achievement assessments; they are just required to take them each year.

While we’re in danger of having 19,000 public school third graders retained based on their one-day test result, Ohio’s Republicans have shielded over 14,000 private school third grades from any high-stakes situation whatsoever.

That’s right — Ohio’s hartered nonpublic (private) schools had approximately 14,000 third graders enrolled in the 2012-13 school year, including EdChoice voucher recipients, yet not a single child in those schools is threatened with being retained for producing a subpar result on their reading test.

But wait, there’s more!  Ohio also has 339 more schools across the state that we haven’t even discussed!  There is a third category of school that falls outside of the public and nonpublic categories called Non-Chartered, Non-Tax Supported Schools.  These 339 schools are not chartered by the state board of education (“because of truly held religious beliefs“) and are also not subject to many state laws, including the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

Apparently the laws being written by Kasich & Company continue to set different standards for different segments of the population.  If you follow their ideology of seeking to undermine Ohio’s public school system, whether by attending a private school outright or participating in their pet project — EdChoice vouchers — then you get to be exempt from their punitive law.


One final note: if you’re thinking the Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a moot point for the EdChoice recipients because the private schools have these children scoring so much higher than their public school competition, well, stay tuned…