Half of third-grade students at the Greenwood and Carroll County school districts, along with more than 60% at the Leflore County Schools, failed their annual reading test. Hundreds of students face having to repeat the third grade.
Third-grade students in all three districts fared much worse this year on the reading assesment after the standard for passing the test was raised, according to results issued Wednesday by the Mississippi Department of Education.
The Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA), a Mississippi law passed in 2013, mandates that third-graders pass the reading assessment to be promoted to fourth grade.
According to MDE, it’s in the third grade that students transition from “learning to read to reading to learn.” If students still aren’t prepared to read, MDE said, they are at risk of falling behind.
Third-grade students have three opportunities within a year to take the test and pass before being held back. Wednesday’s results from MDE pertain to the first opportunity.
Students’ results are measured on five levels, with Level 5 being the highest. Previously, students needed to score a Level 2 or higher to pass the assessment.
This year and onward, however, students need to score a Level 3 or above to pass the assessment, reflecting a 2016 amendment to the law. The higher standard has increased the failure rates. Statewide, the failure rate was 25.5%; last year it was 6.8%.
For the Greenwood school district, 50.4% of its third-graders did not pass the assessment, a dramatic increase from last year’s 9.1% failure rate.
Among the district’s three elementary schools, only Bankston Elementary performed close to the state average, with 27.5% of third-graders failing. At Davis Elementary, 54.3% failed; at Threadgill Elementary, 58.5% did not pass.
Dr. Jennifer Wilson, the district’s superintendent, said students who failed the test the first time took it a second time earlier this month.
In Leflore County, 61.4% of students failed the assessment — the second-highest failure rate of the state’s 138 districts. Only Yazoo City did worse, with a 67.6% rate. The state Board of Education voted to take over the Yazoo City district earlier this year.
East Elementary by far had the highest failure rate among the district’s three elementary schools at 74.6%, though the rates at Claudine Brown and Leflore County elementary schools — 52.9% and 53.2%, respectively — still exceeded half of the schools’ third-graders.
Dr. James Johnson-Waldington, the state-appointed conservator for the school district, acknowledged the huge increase in the district’s failure rate.
Upon receiving the results of the first test, which MDE issued to school districts before releasing the data publicly, the district held an intervention for students who failed, Johnson-Waldington said.
He said a retake of the test occurred earlier this month, and results are expected before the end of this month.
“We’re looking for positive results for the second taking of the test,” he said.
Because the Greenwood and Leflore County school districts will merge July 1 to form the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District, the responsibility of students will be handled by that district’s superintendent, Dr. Mary Brown.
When asked if the high failure rates may affect the structure of third-grade classrooms for the upcoming school year, Brown said that the district will first wait on the results of the second test.
“Once those scores are received, if a student passes, then the student will be promoted. In the event there are students who have failed, a third administration of the MAAP assessment will be administered in June,” she said.
“We are reviewing the data for both districts and are proactively creating a plan of action to address the low performance,” Brown said.
“This will also include possible changes including instructional personnel. We want to reassure the parents and community that we are placing an increased focus on improving literacy across the district.”
In Carroll County, Marshall Elementary’s failure rate was 49.1%, an increase from 9% last year.
Billy Joe Ferguson, superintendent of the Carroll County School District, said he was disappointed: “We just didn’t do as well as we feel like we should have done.”
Ferguson said he did expect an increase in the failure rate due to the increase in the test’s passing benchmark but not a dramatic increase.
“We had anticipated a percent change; we just didn’t know what it would be,” he said, adding that if the assessment’s passing benchmark had been Level 3 or higher last year, than the failure rate would have been 50%.
He said the students who failed retook the test last week.
Ferguson also said Marshall Elementary would have to make adjustments to handle an increase in the number of third-grade students should test results on the retakes not improve.
“I really am concerned,” he said. “There’ll be some changes made next year. We’ll make some adjustments.”
According to the law, there are some exemptions that allow students who failed the assessment to nevertheless proceed to fourth grade.
Some of those exemptions pertain to students who’ve had less than two years of instruction in English and students with disabilities whose individual education plans (IEP) indicate that participation in a statewide assessment is not appropriate for them.
The law requires that intensive reading intervention services be provided for students who must repeat third grade as well as for fourth-grade students who advanced to that grade level due to an exemption.
•Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or firstname.lastname@example.org.