Our View: State-wide pre-K education would be excellent compliment to Third-Grade Gate




Can the quality of education be reduced to a simple mathematical equation? 


As much as we would like, it's not that simple. 


A good case in point is the third-grade reading proficiency requirements adopted by Mississippi in 2014, which tests third-graders to determine if those students can read at a third grade level.  


Often referred to as "third-grade gate," the testing requires students to demonstrate the grade-level reading competency. Students have up to three chances to meet the minimum level requirements. If they fail to do so, they must repeat third grade. 


Last year, 25 students in Lowndes and Oktibbeha County were returned to third grade this year. 


This year, the pass rate for those schools slipped. Only 60.9 percent of third-graders in Columbus met the requirements. In Oktibbeha County, 68.4 percent passed. Lowndes County third-graders passed at a 87.2 rate, well above the state average of 74.5 percent. 


Those numbers do not necessarily reflect a step back, however. 


Rather, the lower scores reflect the higher standard to which students are being held. Student performance on the test is graded on Levels 1 through 5. Last year, any student who attained Level 2, was considered to have passed. This year, a passing score required the student to attain a Level 3 score. 


This year, there were 305 students in Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties who failed to reach Level 3 in the first test. The second test was administered last week and results will be announced later this month. A third test will be offered in June. 


The intentions of the third-grade gate are good. Reading is the foundation of virtually all learning and students who cannot read at grade level by third grade often not only make up the deficit but fall further behind. We've all heard stories of high school students who can barely read. 


Allowing students to move from one grade to the next without regard to their aptitude is derisively called "social promotion." 


That term is judgmental and punitive. 


We absolutely agree that students should meet grade-level standards as they progress through the K-12 process. But we believe that retaining children should be an absolute last resort, based on a thorough understanding of the child's circumstances.  


We argue that to the extend the third-grade gate is used to evaluate a child's reading ability, it should be applied judiciously. Holding a child back might be the simple response, but it is often not the best response. 


Children who struggle in the classroom should have access to the resources they need and one of the best resources is a fully-funded state-wide Pre-K program, something that our state has failed to provide. 


When children are exposed to the world of learning at age 3 or 4, there is a wealth of evidence that shows they perform significantly better once they reach first grade.  


This is especially true for children who live in poverty, often with little exposure to books before entering school. Those children are behind before they even start. 


If third-grade gate proves anything, it's that many of our children could benefit greatly from Pre-K education. 


It's time our state made that investment.



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