May 23, 2019 10:39:49 AM
Nearly 40 percent of third graders at Columbus Municipal School District did not pass the third grade reading exam the state requires to advance to fourth grade.
For Superintendent Cherie Labat, this came as no surprise with the statewide changes made to this year's testing requirements.
"I respect we have to have certain benchmarks and it's important, accountability is very important," Labat said. "There are elements of it that go back to the child. In many situations it's not the fault of the child. ... Part of this assessment is to get our kids on grade level, so we will continue to work on a culture of literacy."
By state law, all third-grade students in Mississippi must pass the reading assessment -- which is part of the broader year-end English-Language Arts exam for third grade -- before entering the fourth grade. The Mississippi Department of Education implemented the reading assessment for the 2014-15 school year to help ensure student literacy.
The scoring is based on levels 1 through 5, with 5 being advanced.
For the 2018-19 school year, MDE increased its expectations of a "passing score" from a level 2 to a more rigorous level 3, mandating students who score a level one or two to retake the test, while levels 3, 4 and 5 students progress to the fourth grade.
The state average pass rate was 74.5 percent.
"This year's assessment is a new beginning because the passing score has been raised one level to move closer to measuring proficiency," State Superintendent Carey Wright said according to a press release. "Students need strong reading skills in order to learn other school subjects, such as science, social studies, writing and even math."
Students who fail the exam on the first try get two more chances to pass before actually being retained in third grade.
CMSD students that did not pass the first test took a second test last week. Those scores will return to the district by the end of May and the second and final retake will be at the end of June.
Fairview Elementary, which had a 100 percent pass rate in 2018, held the highest pass rate this year for the district at 73.9 percent. Though the numbers dipped, Superintendent Cherie Labat said she noticed a trend of growth district-wide.
"Looking at last year's data, 50 percent of our kids had a 3 and above," Labat said. "To see that 61 percent of students pass the test this year, we are happy to see an improvement from the standpoint of students on a level 3."
Franklin Academy had the lowest pass rate with only 48.9 percent.
Overall at CMSD, 106 third graders did not reach the minimum proficiency required on the exam to proceed to the fourth grade.
Those who fail a second time will take a focus class over the summer emphasizing reading and literacy. After the class, students will have their final chance to pass that assessment before being retained.
"We will be doing basic remediation using scholastics and other programs that help with fluency, phonemic awareness and comprehension," Labat said.
Joe Cook Elementary had 64 percent pass, Sale Elementary had 56.3 percent and Stokes Beard had 59.6 percent. No school at CMSD scored higher than the state average pass rate of 74.5 percent.
Some students who did not score proficient on the exam may qualify for a "good-cause exemption" -- depending on special-education needs or if English is their second language. Those students will not have to retake the assessment. As of now, Labat said the district has 18 students who qualify for good cause exemption, but that number could increase.
Last year, 16 students were ultimately held back in the third grade due to the reading assessment. Labat did not comment if she thought that number will be higher this year due to the increased testing standards.
"I have high expectations of my students, faculty and staff," Labat said. "I am hoping that (with) the remediation and things we do we will have more students that pass the test."
Lowndes County School District scored above the state average with 82.7 percent of students passing.
The district had 66 third graders who did not meet the minimum proficiency to progress to the fourth grade. Robin Ballard, LCSD deputy superintendent, said the district will start a tutoring program this summer for students who did not pass the second test which was given last week.
Caledonia Elementary scored more than 10 percent higher than the state average with an 86.4 percent pass rate. New Hope Elementary scored 79.2 percent, while West Lowndes Elementary scored 78.8 percent.
"We expected to have more students to not pass on the first attempt," Ballard said. "That wasn't a big shock. The rigor was going to be higher this year."
Of the 66 students who did not pass the first test, 33 students qualified for good cause exemption. Ballard said for the last two years, LCSD had fewer than six students who were held back due to the reading gate.
"We're expecting it (to increase), but that doesn't mean it's going to happen," Ballard said. "We knew that we would have more (not pass)."
Overall, Ballard said she was pleased with the scoring.
"You have to have the perfect storm," Ballard said. "You have to have the right teaching, the right support to monitor the kids along the way and close the gaps. You also have to have the support of the parents, some kids might have to have extra in order to work to close that gap. ... It's extra attention and extra support. It shows and it works. Just communicating to the parents and guardians and making sure everybody knows what's expected of the state."
At Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, a combined 133 students from two elementary schools scored lower than minimum proficiency on the reading assessment.
By percentage, Henderson Ward-Stewart led the way with 69.3 percent of its third graders passing the exam on the first try. At West Elementary, 52.2 percent passed.
Overall, the district's pass rate was 68.4 percent.
"We are about where we expected to be based on our benchmark performance," Superintendent Eddie Peasant said. "We weren't surprised. We are pleased and excited for the students who made or exceed the mark. Our first concern is putting a plan in place to address the students that did not."
Amanda Tullos, English Language Arts specialist, said the district is gearing up for a summer program preparing students for the final retake in late June. The camp will give students mock-tests designed by both MDE and SOCSD.
"We're going to have a camp called 'open the gate summer camp' for the students who do not pass the test we took last week," Tullos said. "It will be a three-week literacy camp. We are going to work hard on remediating the skills and preparing for the second retest opportunity. We're looking forward to seeing improved results."
The district is working to see which students have qualified for good cause exemption, but has not tallied an official number, Tullos added.
Comparing apples to apples, Peasant said he is happy to see improvements and growth in students.
SOCSD had three students held back last year due to the reading assessment.
"It's different this year," Peasant said. "I did do a comparison of if we placed this year's requirements on last year's scores, and we showed about a 4-percent increase. That's a measure of growth which is most important for me."
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