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Third-grade reading gate results mixed for BSD, LCSD

Approximately 70 students in the Lincoln County area failed the inaugural third-grade reading gate test, with Lincoln County School District faring better than Brookhaven School District.

The reading gate was established by legislators in 2014 in an effort to help improve literacy rates and therefore overall education efforts. Students who fail the tests can’t move on to fourth grade. Opponents say it could cause harm by keeping students in third grade who are otherwise capable of advancing. Opponents also believe the state has not given the funding needed to promote literacy efforts.

The statewide average pass rate was 85 percent, with 5,612 students failing. Those students will have two more chances to take the test, once this week and a second this summer. Intensive intervention programs are being implemented at schools across the state to give extra preparation for the follow-up tests.

Some students will also qualify for a good-cause exemption. These exemptions, which allow students to be promoted despite not passing the test, includes limited English proficient students who have received less than two years of instruction in an English learner program, students with qualifying special needs and students who have been retained two previous years in any grade.

Brookhaven Elementary School, the only school teaching third grade in Brookhaven School District, had a pass rate of 75 percent on the test. BSD Superintendent Ben Cox said this translates to about 55 students failing. Cox said a portion of those students is expected to qualify for the good-cause exemption policy.

Currently, BES is providing these students will intensive literacy preparation for their second test. The intensive sessions are limited to five students per teacher.

Cox said any students who fail the second test will have intervention for four hours a day Monday through Thursday until the third test, which is to be administered at the end of June.

In addition to preparation for these students, Cox said they are also looking to promote literacy in the lower grades to better prepare for future third-grade reading tests.

He said they received the 21st Century Grant, which will allow the school to provide tutoring for students struggling in class.

Lincoln County School District’s scores were led by West Lincoln Attendance Center, with a pass rate of 98 percent.

Bogue Chitto Attendance Center was just behind with 97 percent. Principal Mickey Myers said that translates to just two students failing. One of those students he expects to qualify for a good-cause exemption.

Myers said part of their success stemmed from monthly STAR tests, which allowed teachers to measure their students’ reading ability throughout the year. He said they also have 90- to 120-minute reading blocks at least three times a week. This allows teachers the opportunity to provide guided reading to struggling students.

“There’s just a tremendous focus on literacy at Bogue Chitto,” he said.

Loyd Star Attendance Center had a 93 percent pass rate. Elementary Principal Jeremy Peagler said five students failed. He said some of them have special needs and others were not native English speakers.

“I was pleased with students as well as the teachers for their hard work in preparing the students,” he said.

Enterprise Attendance Center was closest to the state average at 89 percent. Principal Shannon Eubanks said six students failed. He said two students will be retained based off grades anyway, another two qualify for exemptions and the last two had borderline grades.

“We confirmed what the teachers already were telling us,” Eubanks said.

Eubanks said teachers already have a plan to help the students get over the hump.

As for opinions of the test, local educators were split.

“Sometimes in education, we do things that are really injuring for children,” Myers said. “However, this test is one of the best things we’ve done in a long time.”

Myers said he believes this is the right step toward creating better readers. However, he did acknowledge that it was easy for him to say that because of their high pass rate. He knows it will be difficult for districts with fewer resources and failure rates closer to half.

“I pray the Mississippi Legislature can provide adequate resources for this effort to be successful,” he said.

Eubanks, on the other hand, feels as though the test was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“All it tells us is we don’t trust teachers,” he said.

Eubanks said the test created a panic among students and teachers.

“We’ve created a tempest in a teapot,” he said.

Eubanks said the only students who will fail the reading tests are those with failing or borderline grades in reading.

“No student with all As is going in and failing,” he said. “We spent a whole lot of money, created a lot of angst, a lot of pressure when the results were being told to us already.”