15% of Mississippi Third Graders Fail Reading Assessment


Mississippi's first high-stakes reading test resulted in 5,800 third-graders failing the assessment and, as a result, facing retention.

A score of 926 or above means a child was reading at or above grade level and would be promoted to the fourth grade. Of the approximately 38,000 third grade students who took the test, 15% scored below that mark. According to Emily Le Coz writing for The Clarion-Ledger, children will have two chances to improve their scores. There is also the possibility of meeting one of several "good cause exemptions" offered by the new Mississippi Literacy-Based Promotion Act.

Governor Phil Bryant backs the program, which was modeled after similar programs in Florida and North Carolina, especially since it will change the practice of social promotion, or advancing students to higher grades in spite of their inability to read or write.

Renaissance Learning, the test vendor, used the determinations of the group to convert into scores. Some were concerned that the group set the passing score to "minimize the state's failure rate." Among other concerns was that the group set the passing scores after seeing students' test results instead of before, which might have led to lowering the bar. But the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, which oversaw the standard-setting process, defended the post-result standard setting, calling it a common practice in the industry.

The Third-Grade Reading Summative Assessmment is a computer-based test with 50 questions. If a student struggled with the questions, the test got progressively easier. If a student excelled on answering the questions, the questions got progressively more difficult. However, both difficult and less difficult questions were designed to test the same basic skills.

The test used until this year, the Mississippi Curriculum Test or MCT2, has produced about the same percentage of failing student scores, approximately 15%. But, until now, students were not required to repeat the third grade. Experts may have differing opinions concerning the benefits of retention, but in the words of the state Superintendent Carey Wright:

"It's the law that we have, so need to do the best that we can."

Dozens of literacy coaches are already in place in elementary schools across the state, and the numbers will increase next year. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has contributed $2.4 million to put even more literacy coaches in Mississippi schools. Students will be allowed to re-take the test at the end of this month and again at the end of June.

The "good cause exemptions" include students who have only been speaking English for two years or less; students with cognitive disabilities; special education students who have had two or more years of intervention and have already taken and failed the test once; or any students with two or more years of intervention and have failed the test twice.

Jeff Amy of the Associated Press says that Mississippi students, according to national tests, have the lowest achievement levels in the US.

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