Ohio faces tough call enforcing literacy standards

An Ohio initiative to improve literacy for elementary school students has hit its first milestone, as fall reading test results were released this month. Under the standards of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, more than 34 percent of third-graders who participated in state tests are now at risk of being held back to repeat third grade, if they do not improve enough to meet new reading targets by the end of the summer.

Lawmakers were absolutely correct in enacting the law to attempt to revoke the free passes given to students – and their parents and teachers -when reading levels were not sufficient for fourth grade and beyond. Now they must have the courage of their convictions, and prepare for the consequences.

One-third of Ohio’s third graders will need more support to bring their reading up to target before the end of the year. Or, one-third of Ohio’s third graders will be third-graders again next year. Does the state have enough resources in place to make the improvements this year, or enough third-grade teachers on standby to pick up the bigger class sizes next year?

Plans to answer those questions must be put in place immediately, because the alternative -returning to an elementary-school environment that does failing students an injustice when they are promoted to the next grade – is not an option.

“My message really is what happens later. What happens in real life if they aren’t able to read?” said state Superintendent Richard Ross, when discussing the fall test results.

Of course there are some students with special circumstances, but the vast majority of students who have been bumped along to grade after grade without being able to meet basic targets have been failed by their schools in all the ways that count.

Ohio officials should take this month’s startling numbers not as a chance to ease off the accelerator, but as an opportunity to stick to their guns and end that cycle.