Report examines how third grade retention law will affect Oklahoma students and schools

Gene Perry, Oklahoma Policy Institute, (918) 794-3944,
Paul Shinn, CAP Tulsa, (918) 855-3638,

Report examines how Oklahoma’s new third grade retention law will affect students and schools

A new report ( by Oklahoma Policy Institute and CAP Tulsa finds that with a new third grade retention requirement about to take effect, better funding and planning are needed to improve reading achievement in Oklahoma.

“We’ve created a mandate for kids to pass a reading test or repeat the third grade, but we haven’t done enough to make sure children, teachers, and schools are properly equipped to meet the new requirements,” said Gene Perry, a policy analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute and co-author of the report.

In 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 students who do not pass a reading test and do not receive an exemption to be retained in the third grade. The first group of students affected by this policy will complete the third grade in 2014.

Oklahoma’s third-grade retention requirement was modeled on a policy in Florida that has demonstrated success in improving student achievement. However, Florida’s program also involved annual spending of $130 million for reading instruction in all grades and schools, with a strong emphasis on schools with many struggling readers. 

Adjusting for the smaller number of students in Oklahoma, an equivalent level of reading funding would be $31 million, which is five times more than Oklahoma has ever funded the RSA. In the past two budget years, Oklahoma has defunded the RSA entirely.

“If you want to use Florida as a model and you want Florida results, you have to fund it like Florida. Two out of three will not work in this case,” said Rebecca Fuhrman, Policy Research Specialist with CAP Tulsa and another co-author of the report.

A statewide survey of school superintendents conducted for the report found that 78 percent of districts expect to see their retentions increase as a result of the law. The report estimates that the number of third graders retained could increase by between 2,200 and 3,000 students.

At the current cost of $8,301 per student, the additional year of schooling for retained students will cost $18 to $25 million statewide in 2023-24. In the short term, the policy will cost an additional $900,000 to $1.3 million per year to educate retained students in the third grade.

To achieve the goals of the Reading Sufficiency Act, the report recommends that Oklahoma should provide adequate and reliable funding for remediation and the short-term costs of retention, start identifying and helping students at risk earlier in their school careers, and invest in student remediation and teacher professional development programs that are proven to be effective.

A copy of the report can be downloaded at


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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