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Advocates, State Officials Want Reading Test Disparity Fixed

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 10:39 AM

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Educational advocates are pointing out an alleged discrepancy in the laws that lay out Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, state officials agree with the advocates and believe a change should be made.

Students around the state are preparing for the second round of third grade reading tests. If a student fails to reach a certain standard on this test he or she could be held back, forced to repeat the third grade.

The third grade reading guarantee was a controversial issue for which Republican Gov. John Kasich fought adamantly. Now some groups are pointing out a so-called flaw in the system.

Dale Butland is a spokesperson for the liberal think tank Innovation Ohio. He says a student going to a public school and a student going to a private school with a publicly funded voucher are treated differently. If students with the vouchers fail the reading test, they get to move on to fourth grade.

Butland: “Well it’s ridiculous. When you have voucher kids – that is to say kids that get state money, taxpayer funded money – which they then take to a private school – those kids ought to be subject to the same reading guarantee that public kids are.”

John Charlton, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, agrees with Butland.

Charlton: “It was kind of – I think – an oversight when the legislation was adopted. However we believe certainly in Ohio that every third grader should be able to read on a third grade level by the time they’re finished with the grade and that’s definitely for the traditional public school kids and for the students that’re attending non-public schools on a voucher.”

Butland disputes the claim that this was a simple oversight. He adds that this possible issue was discussed during the committee process. Butland says the disparity between public school students and private school students with vouchers is just one glitch to the overall problem with the reading guarantee.

According to Butland, the initiative is severely underfunded. While he says Ohio put $13 million towards the reading guarantee, Florida directed $1 billion to a similar program.

Butland: “That’s why I say we have really set these kids up for failure – this is an expensive proposition because the work has to start way back in kindergarten and so to do this properly it’s going to require some money and we have the money.”

Charlton defends the program and says it’s a disservice to kids in the private schools to exclude them from the initiative.

Charlton: “We identify students very early as early as kindergarten to see if they’re on track to be reading at the third grade level when they complete third grade and if they’re not then we provide them with the appropriate intervention to get them up to speed and if students are not subject to the third grade reading guarantee then they’re not getting the help that they need. They may not be getting the help that they need in order to be reading at a proficient level at the end of third grade.”

This is something, according to Charlton, that needs to be fixed by the Legislature but until they do so the department’s hands are tied and must carry out the initiative the way it’s structured by law.

Butland says the governor has the power to fix the issue in his budget update, known as the mid biennium review. However, he’s not sure if a revision would affect students currently in third grade.

The governor’s MBR proposal is expected to be released on Tuesday.

Andy Chow at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau. 

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Education, Government/Politics

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