When Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee law was passed, it required that the State Board of Education set the “cut score” that third graders would have to reach on Ohio’s standardized reading test in order to be eligible to advance to fourth grade.  This decision was made on a single day — September 11, 2012 — during their regular business meeting after hearing a presentation by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

During that presentation, Michael Sawyers, acting State Superintendent, and Sasheen Phillips, ODE Senior Executive Director of Curriculum and Assessment presented to the State Board with their recommendations.  In that presentation, they recommended a cut score that they projected would retain 10,000 Ohio children in third grade after this current school year.  The cut score they recommended for 2013-2014 was 392, the score that the Board ultimately adopted in a unanimous vote.

Here the two slides from their PowerPoint presentation that show their recommendation and the number of students who would likely be retained:



Notice that in the first slide shown, Sawyers presented this to the State Board as their “Cut Score Options”, with 385 being the lowest they could go (which would have been essentially equivalent to the Florida law – read that post here).

Before that, however, Sawyers provides a nice introduction to set the tone for the Board and clearly identifies how ODE thinks of our children — as numbers.  I’ve spliced the audio from that introduction with some text graphics from the PowerPoint.

In this second segment from the presentation, you’ll learn that schools in urban areas — children of poverty — are disproportionately affected by this law.

In this third segment from the presentation, you’ll hear questions from Board members about ODE’s efforts to obtain feedback from stakeholders (such as third grade teachers).  Remember, in the introduction, Michael Sawyers said, “Much conversation has occurred statewide…”

So despite stating that much conversation has occurred statewide, no stakeholders — teachers or principals — were involved in the conversation about the recommended cut scores.

If you listen to the audio of the full hour-long presentation (link available  at the end of the post), you’ll also hear board members ask how these cut scores compared to other states with a similar law (information was not provided at this time by ODE).

You’ll hear a board member ask for a copy of the test  and be told that sample tests are on the website, but that they can’t get copies of the actual test (they’re the State Board of Education, for crying out loud — shouldn’t they be fully informed before making such a crucial decision?).

You’ll hear ODE describe the shortage of “Reading Specialists” throughout the state available to fulfill the laws requirements (though ODE is unable to identify who is actually teaching 3rd grade…).

You’ll hear ODE explain that their cut score recommendation is based on a similar cut score for the OGT (which occurs seven years later; don’t we still intervene and teach reading in those seven years?).

You’ll hear a board member ask how private schools are performing on reading and not have her question answered.

You’ll hear Board President Debe Terhar push for a higher cut score.

You’ll hear ODE quote statistics about the importance of the skill of reading compared to dropout statistics, but you will not hear ODE cite a single report cautioning the State Board about the fact that retention is an additional risk factor that leads to dropping out, especially in high-poverty areas (or “Urban Environments” as Michael Sawyers called them); areas that are disproportionately affected by this legislation (you can read our posts about this research here and here).

In the end, despite not having the full picture, with many questions still unanswered, and with no stakeholder input, the State Board adopted the Ohio Department of Education’s recommendations later that very day in a unanimous vote.

Who, exactly, is advocating for what is right for our children?

You can access the full audio files and the Board minutes at the ODE website here.