- Third grade students who were retained in Ohio due to the state’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee law scored higher on English language arts and math tests in grades 4-7 compared to peers who scored just high enough to be promoted to 4th grade, according to a study released this month.
- Though retained students consistently outperformed the promoted students, the performance gap between the two groups shrank each year, said the study from the Ohio Education Research Center in partnership with Ohio Excels, a nonprofit group formed by Ohio business leaders.
- For students who repeated 3rd grade, 90% increased their score on the ELA test, while 53% improved by an entire performance level and 21% reached proficiency the second time around, the study found.
The Ohio reading retention study comes as state legislators are considering HB 117, a bill that would remove retention and the 3rd grade ELA assessment currently given each fall under in the Third Grade Reading Guarantee law. The bipartisan bill was unanimously passed on May 10 by the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee and awaits a vote before the full chamber.
A state budget analysis of the bill said repealing retention requirements could save money for schools, districts and the state in the long run by slightly reducing enrollment over time.
Ohio Rep. Gayle Manning, a retired elementary school teacher and a primary sponsor of HB 117 alongside Democratic Rep. Phil Robinson, said in an April House hearing that removing the “high-stakes nature” of 3rd grade reading laws would give teachers more time to focus on literacy interventions.
“Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to literacy that currently exists, House Bill 117 will give local and parental control to districts when deciding to retain a child,” added Manning, a Republican.
The Ohio study contrasts with an April study from the Michigan State University Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, which found disparities in the implementation of Michigan’s Read by Grade Three Law. The Michigan reading retention law was reversed by state legislators in April.
Specifically, the Michigan study found that Black and economically disadvantaged students, as well as girls, were all more likely to be required to repeat the 3rd grade in 2020-21 than others under the state’s reading retention law. At the same time, a 2021 report from Michigan State University found that 3rd reading achievement had improved annually since the state enacted the law in 2016.
While the Ohio study did not dig into the impact of the state’s reading retention law by race, gender or economic status, it did note the demographics of students who were held back in 3rd grade between 2014 and 2019.
Some 91% of retained students, versus 50% of students not retained, were economically disadvantaged. In addition, 17% of retained students had a disability compared to 10% of those who were promoted.
African American students were the most retained group of students, at 48%. By comparison, only 14% of students not retained were African American. Among White non-Hispanic students, 34% were retained versus 72% who were not. Some 11% of Hispanic students were retained compared to 6% of students not retained, and 7% of mulitracial students were retained versus 5% who were not.
Testifying before an Ohio House hearing in May on HB 117, Lisa Gray, president of Ohio Excels, shared early findings from the study and expressed concerns about ending the 3rd grade retention policy.
“Our children and our families are counting on us,” Gray said. “We cannot continue to promote our students — 40% at each grade level — who are not proficient readers. Doing so is likely to lead to a life of educational and financial hardship.”