Third Grade Guarantee — Or Your Money Back

Part 1 of 2

Slogans, jingles, and taglines have caught consumers’ attention for years with promises of satisfaction … guaranteed. Pizza will be delivered hot, teeth will be whiter, and our internet faster — guaranteed or your money back. As consumers of Ohio REVISED Code 3313.608, known as the “Third Grade Guarantee,” Ohioans should ask two critical questions: 1) what is being guaranteed? And how will the guarantee be fulfilled?

The Merriam Webster learner’s dictionary defines the word ‘guarantee’ as ‘a promise that something will happen or be done.[1] Within this law, legislators have promised:

  • The identification of, and intervention for, kindergarten through third grade Ohio public school students who are currently ‘not on-track’ for Reading success by the end of third grade.
  • The retention of third grade Ohio public school students who are ‘not on-track’ for Reading success at the end of third grade.

The promise to identify and intervene with struggling readers in the early grades (k-3) is certainly critical to improving students’ educational performance and future success. Various educational researchers’ work supports early identification and intervention to prevent reading difficulties: Allington, Clay, Pinnell and Stanovich to name just a few. Economically, the Alliance for Excellent Education identifies a potential savings of over $3 million yearly as a result of early intervention versus later, expensive, high school and college remedial courses which often have weaker results.[2]

But what of the second legislative promise to ‘retain’ students who, at the end of their third grade year, are found to be ‘not on-track’ for success in reading? Is this a good promise? Educators too often deal with district promotion/retention policies based on enrollment projections, existing staffing levels, and availability of intervention services rather than the evidence-supported professional judgment of the trained educator who knows the student best. Should a law mandated from Columbus make this decision for every individual student in Ohio public schools?

However, the law does afford protection for those students who have already been retained and/or have received intervention for two consecutive years and/or those who have specific cognitive disabilities as outlined in existing Individualized Education Programs (IEP).

But what of ‘other’ students who struggle? Opinions vary regarding the effectiveness of retention as an intervention. Some states with laws requiring retention have seen initial gains in retained students’ scores. However, other research evidence suggests that retention and even the practice of tracking students (populating classes with students of like performance levels) are harmful to long-term student achievement.[3] (McGill-Franzen & Allington, 1993). The 2013-2014 third graders in Ohio public schools will be the first students to face mandatory retention, so it would be wise to study the long-term impact on these students’ achievement and social/emotional development.

A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain. ~Arabian Proverb.

If so, the downpour has already begun upon the group of people who will fulfill the promises of the third grade guarantee: teachers.

By Ellen Adornetto, OEA UniServ Education Reform Consultant



[2] Alliance for Excellent Education, Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation (Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006), 3-6.

[3] McGill-Franzen, A., & Allington, R. L. (1993). “Flunk `em or get them classified: The contamination of primary grade accountability data.” Educational Researcher, 22, 19-22.



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