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Brookhaven schools consider new pass, fail reading standard

The Brookhaven school board is considering raising the bar for younger students to advance to the next grade by establishing target reading goals borrowed from existing state policies.

The Brookhaven School District Board of Trustees this week listened and asked questions as Assistant Superintendent Rod Henderson laid out a proposal for an updated promotion and retention policy for grades K-6 that would install minimum reading requirements as recommended by the Mississippi College and Career Readiness Standards. The new policy would also give schools more data to review when considering whether to pass a student up to the next grade or fail them for another year of study.

“We wanted to add something to our policy that would show some goals we feel like are attainable,” Henderson said. “A lot of this is centered around literacy — if a student is a struggling reader, it will be hard for that child to be successful. We’re trying to strengthen that on this level.”

The proposed policy would require students to achieve 70 percent proficiency in the MCCRS reading standards tied to their grade level. Kindergarten students would need to hit a target score on the Mississippi Kindergarten Readiness Assessment to advance to first grade.

Grades one through four would be required to hit their own reading benchmarks, with third-graders achieving “advanced” reader status on the important Third Grade Reading Summative Assessment, the third-grade “reading gate.” Even though the proposal says students failing to hit the required 3.0 reading gate score will not pass third grade, the school can still advance the student for “good cause,” a wide set of exemptions state law allows to consider for students who fail the reading gate but have otherwise good grades.

“It helps special-needs kids, and it helps kids who struggle taking tests,” Henderson said.

The new policy would also establish a score of 70 as the pass/fail mark for fifth- and sixth-graders and require them to repeat the grade if they fail two classes. Grades eight through 12 are not included under the proposed policy revamp, as Alexander Junior High and Brookhaven High School already have their own promotion and retention policies in place — 65 is the pass/fail mark, and failing two classes fails the grade.

Henderson told board members the proposed policy was crafted in-house with input from the principals at each of the three schools affected. The board did not vote on the proposal Monday, but tabled the matter for further study.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ray Carlock said a more stringent promotion and retention policy has been in the works for quite some time and is necessary to align the curriculum to Common Core standards.

“The scale score for passing is moving up. We have to keep bumping these kids up and making sure they’re growing,” he said. “We’re going to keep bumping it up so that our kids, when they get to third grade, they’re ready to go. If a kid is not able to read, you know the rest of the story.”

While the school board delayed action on the promotion and retention policy, it did approve two other tweaks to next year’s student handbook.

A new bullying policy that defines bullying and lays out reporting procedures will be included, and vandalism has been moved up from a Class II to a Class III infraction on the district’s discipline chart. The handbook will also include the legal code for the crime of vandalism.

“That gives us more teeth — more options to punish,” Henderson said.

Henderson said Brookhaven High School would go over the vandalism policy change with students before the summer break. Board Vice Chairman Lucy Shell suggested sending home forms or requiring students to sign a form saying they were informed of the change.

“So they can’t come back next year and say, ‘I didn’t know,” she said.

Board Chairman Willie “Doc” Harrison suggested making the same vandalism presentation to AJHS students, too.

“I don’t think you can start too early,” he said.

The Brookhaven School District refused requests by The Daily Leader for a copy of the draft promotion and retention policy. The newspaper made an official public records request for the documents Thursday morning.