COLUMBUS -- More than half of third-graders scored high enough on an initial October reading test to meet state requirements to advance a grade level next year, education officials said Thursday.
A total of 56 percent of the youngsters were proficient or higher on the assessments, the full results of which will be unveiled today.
But education officials say more needs to be done to ensure students are reading at the appropriate grade level and not promoted year after year just to remain with their peers.
"I think it's really urgent -- beyond urgent -- that we invest in this issue," State Superintendent Richard Ross told reporters during an afternoon conference call Thursday. "The problem we have, it's not going to be a short-term solution."
He added later, "This is an urgent problem in this state and across the country. We can't bury our heads in the sand."
The Ohio Department of Education will release district-specific statistics on third-graders' performance on the latest reading assessment today (online at education.ohio.gov). School districts were provided preliminary results earlier, and Ross discussed the assessments during the state school board meeting earlier this week.
The assessments are connected to legislation signed into law last year by Gov. John Kasich that requires third graders to be held back if they are not able to read at an appropriate level.
The new law also calls for reading assessments of students starting in kindergarten, with increased identification and parental notification of deficiencies and targeted teaching intervention for struggling students.
Sasheen Phillips, senior executive director at ODE's Center for Curriculum and Assessment, said Thursday that the guarantee is aimed at helping students learn to read at grade level, not necessarily to force them to repeat the third grade.
"What happens in real life if they aren't able to read?" Ross asked. "What happens is the third-grader that's socially promoted ends up falling further behind. Sometimes, when they're 16 and 17 years old or even 15 years old, they just don't show up one day. They just fade away, out of sight, out of mind, into a future that is bleak. That must stop."
Students have several opportunities to pass a test to pinpoint their reading levels. Two assessments are given during the regular school year, with another offered to affected students during the summer. Those who don't meet third-grade reading proficiency are retained, with requirements for 90 minutes of reading instruction per school day.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, students can take fourth-grade classes in other subjects or advance midyear to that grade if their reading scores improve.
Kasich has touted the new reading guarantee in speeches, saying it's important to ensure students are proficient in earlier grades before moving on to lessons in advanced ones.
"These figures clearly demonstrate the size of the problem and show why it was so important for Ohio to address this problem head on," Rob Nichols, spokesman for the governor, said of the results being released today. "By starting early -- several years out -- to identify those children who need some extra help, local schools can make sure their children are ready to move forward with the good reading skills they need for success, not just in fourth grade but in life."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.