Legislature Not at Fault for Bad Reading Scores

In schools districts that fared poorly on the 3rd grade reading tests, many school officials and parents blame lack of funding by the legislature.

For example, Superintendent Powell Rucker attributed Holmes County’s 59% passing rate to student poverty, lack of funding, and rapid teacher turnover.

“It is not a test that even needed to be administered, because the state did not fully fund it,” Jackson parent Cassandra Welchlin told WLBT-TV.

Yazoo City Schools Assistant Superintendent Lucille Lovette blamed lack of full MAEP funding after nearly half of her 3rd graders failed the reading test.

Gov. Phil Bryant’s “third grade gate,” intended to stop social promotion, simply says that no 3rd grader can move to the 4th grade unless he or she passes a test showing ability to read at grade level. It is modeled after a successful Florida program. In its first year, Florida held back 14.4% of 3rd graders. So far, 14.8% of Mississippi’s 3rd graders will be held back. But, students get two more chances to pass the test. And others will receive “good cause exemptions,” such as being an English-language learner or having a disability.

The final percentage held back should be less than Florida’s, a positive result, no doubt from extraordinary efforts made by many schools.

Indeed, results suggest school leadership, teacher preparation, and instructional methodology had more to do with pass rates than funding.

Consider West Clay Elementary School in rural Cedarbluff which had a 100% pass rate. “The students are poor kids from poor households – 99 percent are eligible for free or reduced school lunches – and 89 percent of them are black. Many are from single-parent homes, some are being raised by grandparents. They are the children of laborers and unskilled workers. Few, if any, of the parents have had the benefit of higher education,” reported the Columbus Dispatch. Principal Dr. Helen Kennard explained that her C rated school reallocated funds to hire an additional third-grade teacher, used fall and spring reading assessments to formulate one-on-one plans for struggling students, and paid close attention to lesson plans and materials.

Instructional methods were clearly a factor in positive pass rates. McWillie Elementary in Jackson uses the Montessori method. Davis Magnet in Jackson uses the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. Nora Davis Magnet School in Laurel is a model school for the Mississippi Arts Commission Whole Schools Initiative. All three serve disproportionately low-income, African-American student populations and achieved 100% pass rates.

Nettleton Primary, a D rated school with a 33% reading proficiency rate last year, had a 98% pass rate. Leadership made a difference here. Superintendent Michael Cates told the Associated Press the district provided extra tutoring to students two and three times a week.

These, other examples, and the overall pass rate of 85.2% suggest the legislature is not at fault for bad school performance on the reading test… and that Bryant’s gate is working.

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