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Ohio House eliminates policy holding back struggling 3rd-grade readers

Measure now heads to Senate where it may face opposition
Ohio House eliminates policy holding back struggling 3rd-grade readers
Posted at 6:07 PM, Jun 22, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a nearly unanimous vote, Ohio House lawmakers came together to eliminate a policy that would hold back third graders who struggle to read.

The Third Grade Reading Guarantee is the major program public schools use to make sure students are keeping up with reading, and those who don't can be held back.

If a student struggles with reading in elementary school, the state can require they repeat the grade. Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro thinks that isn't fair.

"The people that should be making decisions about how best to serve students who may be struggling with reading are the people who know those kids best; that means teachers and the parents and the administrators," DiMauro said.

He and his fellow teachers explain this causes anxiety and insecurity, and can impact the student's academic future negatively. This is why they are thrilled with the Ohio House.

In an 89-4 vote, the Ohio House voted to pass H.B. 117. The legislation will eliminate holding students back under the reading guarantee program without a parent’s consent. It will also require only one third-grade English language arts assessment per year.

The bipartisan legislation is cosponsored by two Northeast Ohio lawmakers with a background in education and education policy: state Reps. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Phil Robinson (D-Solon).

RELATED: Ohio may end state-mandated reading assessment that holds failing third-graders back

Only four lawmakers disagreed, but coalitions of conservative education groups are worried.

"Are the students who are not proficient readers going to get the supports and interventions that they need to be successful readers in the future?" asked Lisa Gray with Ohio Excels.

Gray believes holding students back allows them to get the help they need. However, she isn’t too concerned with the House passing the bill, because it now goes to the Senate.

The House Finance Committee passed its version of the budget that removed the retention policy from the reading program. However, when Huffman and the Senate Finance Committee passed theirs, they removed the House's provision.

"The Third Grade Reading Guarantee is important," Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said. "We think the evidence has shown that the kids who are retained do better."

Huffman proposed about $170 million in the budget for literacy intervention, adding that the money could help navigate these learning issues.

Senate Minority Leader and former teacher Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said there is a way to compromise.

"We want our children to be able to read when they're in third grade," Antonio said. "But mastery is different for some children."

Gray is open to finding a middle ground — offering to only hold kids back who are the furthest behind, or committing to additional interventions earlier so that literacy can be managed as soon as a problem arises.

DiMauro also believes intervention is a great idea, but that parents should have more of a say.

"This one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work," he said. "It's not fair."

The lawmakers are working on the budget now, so this bill likely won't be heard until after the summer.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.