Third Grade Guarantee

Third Grade Guarantee—February 2013


As presented by the Ohio Department of Education, the Third Grade Guarantee (once called the Fourth Grade Guarantee) gives greater emphasis to reading instruction and intervention in the early grades. Through this initiative, school districts and community schools will diagnose reading deficiencies in students at grades kindergarten through three, create individualized reading improvement and monitoring plans, while also providing intensive reading interventions. 

Under current law, the third grade reading guarantee requires school districts and community schools to retain in third grade a student who scores in the “limited” range on the third grade English language arts assessment, unless the student’s principal and reading teacher agree that the student is academically prepared for fourth grade or the student will receive intervention services in fourth grade. The bill (SB316) changes the “cut” score and applies the guarantee to all students who do not receive at least a “proficient” (or passing) score on the assessment. The “limited” score, which currently triggers the guarantee, is the lowest of five scoring ranges and two levels below “proficient.”

In short, more students will be held back, and less flexibility will be granted to educators in determining if a student who misses the proficient level can proceed to the fourth grade.

This initiative will begin in the 2012-2013 school year.


OCTELA harbors professional and pedagogical concerns in regards to the Third Grade Guarantee.  These concerns align with the Ohio Education Association’s position on reading and reiterate the weaknesses of the Guarantee, as presented in OEA’s Legislative Watch, dated April 2, 2012:  “Reading is the foundation of learning, and proper interventions based on a diagnostic assessment of student abilities is the right approach. However, interventions such as summer instruction do not come without cost. Unfortunately, the FY 2012-2013 budget drastically cut education funding. This has already resulted in eliminated programs, layoffs and lost opportunities for students. There is no additional funding in this bill. Without proper resources for our schools, this requirement, worthy as it is, will either require local taxpayers to pick up the bill for another unfunded mandate or will have a cascading effect in the school district resulting in cuts to other programs vital to student learning and future success.”

Highlighted areas of concern for both OEA and OCTELA include the following:

  • The Third Grade Guarantee creates a hefty challenge for districts where up to 40 percent of third graders aren’t reading at grade level 
  • Teachers providing intervention must have a reading endorsement or have specific evaluation scores.  Financial responsibility for obtaining the reading endorsement will lie with individual teachers.  Measures for specific evaluations are not even in place yet for the new state framework.  
  • A single measure is used to determine proficiency without allowing the teacher’s professional judgment to play a role in the decision
  • The cut score will continue to be raised over the next several years
  • Numerous studies indicate the detriment of holding students back
  • A backlog of students in third grade and lack of qualified instructors will likely ensue
  • Schools with third graders who need help in reading acquisition may need some additional resources in order to provide more language instruction and family consultation.  Funding for these resources has not been adequately addressed or secured.  

Position Statement:

OCTELA believes that all children can learn and that educators should work to ensure students are reading and comprehending grade level texts, as reading is the foundation for higher level thinking and learning.  However, we know that children do not learn at the same rate, or achieve grade-level mastery at the same time or under the same circumstances. Children have a wide diversity of talents, experiences, goals and needs. OCTELA supports the position of NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts ( that “[b]ecoming a reader is a gradual process that begins with our first interactions with print. As children, there is no fixed point at which we suddenly become readers. Instead, all of us bring our understanding of spoken language, our knowledge of the world, and our experiences in it to make sense of what we read. We grow in our ability to comprehend and interpret a wide range of reading materials by making appropriate choices from among the extensive repertoire of skills and strategies that develop over time.”

OCTELA supports assessment and evaluation when it recognizes the various ways children learn.  The Third Grade Guarantee does not recognize these different learning styles and the various teaching practices that can best help improve literacy skills. Yet, like most testing, the Third Grade Guarantee presumes that some will pass and some will fail. We are opposed to high stakes testing that sorts districts and students into winners and losers. We oppose labeling children as failures because of adult inadequacies like poor teaching, poor parenting and/ or a poor environment. Yet, OCTELA does support the practice of responsibly and thoughtfully identifying students who are not performing at grade level.  We also support providing necessary interventions both during and out of school to help students achieve grade level expectations. Furthermore, OCTELA believes that to help students continue to grow, teachers need to be provided with professional development opportunities to enhance their reading instructional practices across all content areas.

OCTELA encourages the continuous growth and improvement of students over time. Progress monitoring assessments—short cycle or formative assessments– need to be given periodically to check a student’s progress.  In conjunction with the collection of data to monitor student progress, OCTELA supports NCTE’s belief that schools should also strive to foster an appreciation of the written word, which starts from an early age.  As stated by NCTE in its Position Statement on Reading (, students must be provided with the following:  

  • access to a wide range of texts that mirror the range of students’ abilities and interests;
  • ample time to read a wide range of materials, from the very simple to the very challenging;
  • teachers who help them develop an extensive repertoire of skills and strategies;
  • opportunities to learn how reading, writing, speaking, and listening support each other;
  • and access to the literacy skills needed in a technologically advanced society.

OCTELA understands that thoughtful consideration and detailed planning must occur to ensure that the proper support is in place to help students achieve mastery on the Third Grade Guarantee.  In conjunction with NCTE, we believe that:

  • all teachers need to develop an extensive knowledge of language development, a thorough knowledge of all the language arts — including reading and a repertoire of teaching strategies deep and broad enough to meet the needs of every student;
  • all administrators need to secure funds and provide opportunities for professional development; and
  • all educational stakeholders — educators, policymakers, and the general public — need to understand that they can best support beginning and advanced readers by participating