Over the past couple of days, we’ve shared with you the wealth of research that links the retention of students to an increased risk of dropping out of school; research that contradicts the mandatory retention requirement of Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee law.  In these posts, we’ve asked you to contact our state legislators to advocate on behalf of Ohio’s children.  It is important that we take action because others who should be doing so have failed to do so.

At the top of that list is Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Richard Ross.  Ross was hand-picked by the Kasich Administration to fill that post and has been following Kasich’s lead on the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

In April, Ross provided testimony in support of the law, including the requirement that would retain thousands of third grade students annually:

Our schools and districts must make sure that a child’s ability to read is their number one priority. This is why I am so passionate about the changes made in Senate Bill 316 with regard to the third grade reading guarantee. Through this legislation, diagnostics will be administered in kindergarten through third grade that will show us which children are not reading at grade level. These children will then be provided targeted interventions and supports by qualified teachers. No more will children go on to fourth grade struggling to grasp the content and skills they need to succeed in life.

At no time have we disputed the notion that helping our children to become better readers is very important, but as we have shared through the numerous research studies (including the Governor’s chosen study), retention is a strategy that will further exacerbate the problem for struggling students and needs to be removed from Ohio’s law.

It is indeed important that we implement “targeted interventions and supports by qualified teachers”, but every study reports that the problems go well beyond what can be accomplished in our classrooms alone and retaining these children through the misuse of a single standardized test result will merely handicap their long-term development.  The studies show that retaining students piles on an additional risk factor without actually correcting all of the other external factors contributing to low achievement.

As Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Ohio, Richard Ross should be utilizing academic research to make informed decisions about education legislation and using that body of research to inform our state legislators in the creation bills that require state mandates.  Ross should be advocating for research-based decisions about actions that we take to transform educational practices that affect the future of our children.

Richard Ross has failed in this capacity, so we must do so in his place.

In an ironic message that Dr. Ross sent out just last week, he expressed his grave concerns over Ohio’s dropout rate.  Here is his message [emphasis added]:


From time to time, I catch you up on different Ohio education initiatives and concerns I have about the challenges facing our public education system. One concern that weighs heavily on my mind is Ohio’s high number of high school drop outs.

I was incredibly fortunate—most of you were, too—to receive an education that prepared me well for college and for the career I eventually chose. I feel humbled and grateful that I had a family that believed in education, a good rural school system and one teacher, in particular, that believed in me. I owe my success to them.

But too many of our youngsters aren’t so lucky. Every year, thousands of students are floundering in Ohio’s classrooms—students whose futures could have been so bright, but who instead have fallen victim to systems that don’t recognize their unique gifts, that don’t expect them to do great things and that move them along without the skills they need to be successful.

Do you know what happens to students like that? I do. They disappear. It’s not dramatic, and there is no fanfare. They just fade from the front row to the back; from good attendance to bad. Until one day, they are just gone.

Last year, 24,000 of them disappeared from Ohio’s schools. That is not acceptable.

That’s why we must look at each child as a human being with great potential—irrespective of background or culture, family educational or economic levels, or the emotional challenges they bring to school each day. We must recognize that for many children, a caring teacher who is determined they will learn, and a strong curriculum that builds usable knowledge and skills, are the only advantages they have in their lives.

That’s why we must also carry out faithfully the Ohio education initiatives that seek to close the achievement gap, give our youngest students the fundamental reading skills and ensure that all girls and boys leave our K-12 system with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and jobs.

As we move into the second half of the school year, I urge you to bear down on implementing the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, Ohio’s New Learning Standards and the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System as if your students’ lives depended on it—because they do.

Thank you for all you do for the boys and girls of Ohio.


Dr. Richard A. Ross
State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Sadly, Dr. Ross seems to be blind to the fact that mandating the retention of thousands of third graders on an annual basis will only serve to increase the number of high school dropouts, further decreasing the likelihood that we can “ensure that all girls and boys leave our K-12 system with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and jobs”.

TAKE ACTION: Contact Dr. Ross to share the research on the connection between retention and dropping out and urge him to advocate for our children by pushing for additional state funding for broader support of items that match the recommendations in the literature in order to have a positive impact on the future of our struggling students instead of the drastically negative impact that retention will cause.  If we truly wish to decrease the dropout rate in Ohio, then we should be referencing the wealth of research studies that show that retention adds to the dropout rate.

Simply put, research shows that retention is not an intervention strategy that will solve this problem and it should be removed from the state law.

Contact Richard Ross by phone at: 877-644-6338 or by email at: superintendent@education.ohio.gov

Here are links to our articles on this subject that contain links to the research (if you wish to include them):

Research Shows Ohio’s Third Grade Retention Law Will Increase Dropout Rates – http://www.plunderbund.com/?p=42426

The Third Grade Reading Guarantee’s Major Flaw: Student Retention = Higher Dropout Rates – http://www.plunderbund.com/?p=42440