According to a new state law regarding Ohio's reading requirements, 16,000 students did not pass the third grade this year.
After successful summer school sessions and another opportunity at the test, that number has decreased to fewer than 8,000 students, with an even lower number expected when the results of a third test given in August are released.
The Third Grade Reading Guarantee, passed in 2012, requires third graders to achieve a passing score on the state's reading test before moving on to the fourth grade.
In Cleveland, 324 students of the district's 2,603 third graders will be repeating third grade this year.
According to Cleveland Chief Academic Officer Michelle Pierre Farid, 700 students were at risk of being held back until the students went through a summer reading program.
"We did see a good amount of our kids who came to the summer program actually get promoted," Pierre-Farid said. "So this is a message to our families: Really put your child in the intensive reading program so we can get them to be on grade level."
An additional 90 students who received low passing scores on the exam will receive additional third-grade reading skills help and must pass an exam given this fall.
Meanwhile in Akron, schools are planning more instructional time for their high rate of English language learners, which makes up one-third of the district's students who did not pass the state reading exam.
"They're still struggling," said Mary Outley-Kelly, Akron's director of elementary education. "Language is still a barrier. So our next line of work is what do we do with our [English-as-a-second-language] students to give them even more in a shorter time period."
An additional teacher was placed in each classroom to help students for the 40 days leading up to the exam. In addition, special literacy classes were held for these students each day.
As of last October, only 57% of Ohio third-graders were reading at a proficient level. In an effort to raise this statistic, the state offered more tests to require two tests during the school year and one more over the summer. Schools can choose from a list of private vendors who offer not only test scores, but also reveal detailed information about where each student is struggling, that can be used to personalize education plans for each child.
"It gives a lot more detailed information. And it gives instant feedback," said Cheryl Broadnax, director of the early childhood department in Cincinnati Public Schools.
The Ohio Department of Education also has awarded $45 million to state schools as part of the 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, which will focus on building reading and literacy skills. For the first time the grant will allow 61 new Community Learning Centers to benefit from the funding in addition to the 186 centers who already receive funds.
"We have to keep pounding away to improve childhood literacy in Ohio, so we've taken advantage of federal flexibility to fund these 61 programs focused on reading," said Richard A. Ross, superintendent of public instruction. "We believe they'll help more girls and boys become strong readers and successful learners who have what they need to thrive in school and life. That's our job."