Ohio House Hears Testimony, Governor’s Objections on ‘Reading Guarantee’

Published May 23, 2012

The Ohio Senate almost unanimously passed a revised bill overhauling the state’s school rating system, requiring nearly all third graders to read proficiently to move forward, and other education reforms. As SB 316 moves through the House, Education Committee members have questioned both the bill’s timing so close to the coming school year and its implementation costs to schools.

Teaching children to read must be the “single most important goal of our education system,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), addressing Rep. Ronald Gerberry’s (D-Austintown), argument against the bill in committee Monday. 

Lehner said SB 316 is timely because Ohio will implement the Common Core Standards in 2014 and current estimates say only 35 percent of Ohio students rate “proficient” in reading.

Gov. John Kasich (R) had proposed the overall initiative and objected to several changes the Senate made. He wanted all third graders who could barely read to be held back, while the Senate added a clause allowing school principals to exempt individual students from this requirement. It lowered the level of reading required for students to pass third grade to reduce the number of students held back from approximately 17,000 to 9,000.

“Frankly, I don’t think we’re that far apart from what the intent is of the governor’s legislation,” said Senate President Tom Niehaus (R- Clermont). “We do share the same goal of implementing a third-grade reading guarantee.”

The Senate also delayed the new school report cards to 2013 because the legislation is passing so close to this fall. The governor had wanted them available this year.

Ohio is one of several states considering third grade reading intervention and school grades, modeled on Florida’s older and well-reputed policies.

Early Reading Intervention
The bill’s intends to improve reading instruction with “rigorous diagnostic testing, assessments, intervention, remediation and progress monitoring starting in kindergarten,” Lehner told the House Education Committee. The Senate allocated $13 million in state lottery proceeds to fund these interventions.  

The “third grade reading guarantee” would make schools develop a customized reading plan for each child with a reading deficit, Lehner said, and if children still cannot read at grade level at the end of third grade they would be held back and given remedial attention.

“Early identification of and help for students who are behind” in reading is critical, said Thomas Lasley, director of the University of Dayton’s Learn to Earn program. “Study after study shows a direct relationship between third grade reading proficiency and college and career readiness.”

Lehner defended the Senate’s changes to the governor’s initiatives as reflecting “hours of testimony from educators across Ohio and other states” and broad bipartisan support. SB 316 passed the Senate 30-2.

Grading Schools for Parents
The bill also replaces the current school rating system of Excellent with Distinction through Academic Emergency with A to F grades.  

“[A-F grading] is easier for parents to understand, builds community support for schools and creates an environment inside schools in which everyone strives for excellence,” said Lehner. The bill would establish a task force to create and implement the new system. During admission, schools would be required to provide parents with a copy of the school’s most recent report card.

The House Education Committee continues to hear testimony on the bill this week.