Oklahoma’s New Third Grade Retention Law

[Download as a pdf.]

Better Funding and Planning are Needed to Improve Reading Achievement

iStock_000004265279XSmallIn 2011, Oklahoma amended the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) to ban social promotion (promoting a child based on age rather than academic achievement). The new law requires schools to retain students who do not pass a reading test and do not meet other criteria for exemptions by the end of the third grade. The first group of students affected by this policy will complete the third grade in 2014.

This issue brief examines the history of the RSA, what current research says about third grade reading and retention, and how Oklahoma is implementing the law both in local school districts and at the state level. The brief estimates how many additional students could be retained due to the law, what these retentions could cost the state, and what it would cost to implement effective reading remediation measures to reduce the number of students being retained.

The RSA is an important part of efforts to improve third grade reading and thus students’ school and life courses. However, the RSA legislation and its implementation so far are incomplete solutions that leave students at risk for reading deficiencies.

To achieve the goals of the RSA, we recommend that Oklahoma should:

  • Fully fund the costs of RSA remediation.
  • Improve RSA legislation by intervening sooner with struggling students, streamlining alternative assessments, and improving communication.
  • Clearly prescribe evidence-based strategies for reading remediation.
  • Improve mandatory professional development for teachers in K-3 to adequately identify and support struggling readers.

Oklahoma’s education leaders have rightly embraced third grade reading as a primary goal for schools. By improving the Reading Sufficiency Act and funding the reforms, Oklahoma can set its schoolchildren on a more certain path to success.

Click here to download the full report as a pdf.

Click here for a 2 page fact sheet summarizing our findings.


Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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