Third grade students at Lincoln Elementary practice their reading in class Thursday. Some local school districts plan to retain third grade students who don't pass the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessment this year while others plan to promote the kids with interventions. Bill Lackey/Staff

At least 25% of students risk failing test to get to 4th grade

ODE plans to release the fall Ohio Achievement Assessment results on Friday, which are a first glimpse of how many students might be retained in third grade as part of a tougher “third-grade reading guarantee.” The assessment administered in the fall tested students as if they had received a full year of education.

The results will not show exactly how many students are or are not on track to pass the test in the spring. Lawmakers set the minimum score to pass at 392 points, but ODE is releasing the percentages of students who scored within ranges that do not align with that score.

Of the 128,522 third-graders who took the fall assessment, 56 percent tested in the top three ranges and would move to fourth grade. But some of the 21,700 students in the next range down, between 315 and 399 points, could have made the cut.

During a 48-minute call with reporters Thursday, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross said it will take time to improve reading scores.

“To me, literacy is the corner of improvement we need in education in Ohio and across this country,” Ross said. “We didn’t get here fast and it’s going to be a difficult move to where we need to be.”

The tougher third-grade reading guarantee passed in 2012 requires students not reading at grade level by the end of third grade to not be promoted. The new law also requires schools to identify struggling readers in earlier grades and provide intervention such as time with reading specialists.

Sasheen Phillips, director of curriculum and assessment at ODE, said the department will release only proficiency levels, as in past years, but promotion data could be obtained from individual school districts.

Phillips said the focus of the third grade guarantee is not on retainment but on improvement. Students flagged for lagging reading skills will be put on an individual reading plan for improvement. Phillips said ODE is still identifying what types of interventions schools should use to steer students back on track.

“This is a major milestone,” Phillips said. “In order to operate effectively in academia and the real world, students have to be able to comprehend a variety of texts.”

Conventional wisdom holds that students learn to read through third grade and read to learn in fourth grade and beyond. A 2011 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found students who score less than proficient on third-grade tests are four times as likely not to graduate from high school on time as their proficient peers.

Ohio’s law exempts four groups of students from retention: special education students, students retained in previous grades, students with limited English skills enrolled for less than three years and students who take an alternative state test.

Students who are not promoted after third grade will have an opportunity to take a version of the state test in the summer and could move to fourth grade midyear if they catch up. Retained students can attend fourth-grade classes for subjects in which they are not behind.

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