Education

It is going to be harder for your Coast 3rd grader to pass this state test. Here’s why.

Scores on the state’s third-grade reading test may drop this school year because of a tougher standard.
Scores on the state’s third-grade reading test may drop this school year because of a tougher standard. Sun Herald

The Coast had a lot of success when the results were released for the 3rd Grade Reading Assessment in June. But a change in the passing standard could mean some schools may see their success rates drop, even the schools that performed well in the spring of 2018.

The Gulfport School District, one of the largest school districts on the Coast, scored in the top of the state at 95 percent or above the state average of 93 percent. Although the school has a high rate of passing, there are still students who are not making the cut.

And superintendent Glen East said the number is going to increase.

“We will definitely see a drop in our success rate and an increase in the numbers of students that will be retained,” he said. “Next year is where we will need to be with this test — it will be a standard for reading because it will include comprehension.”

What’s changing

The assessment is used in public schools to determine whether or not students are reading at a level that will allow them to pass from the third grade into the fourth.

But the success rate may be changing. A bill passed in 2016 means that students who score at the lowest two levels will not be able to pass instead of just the lowest level.

“The test itself is remaining the same as it has for the last couple of years,” Nathan Oakley, Mississippi Department of Education chief academic officer, said. “The same assessment was used in 2015 and 2016, but in 2017 it was changed to our statewide reading assessment. The test does not change, but the required score to be promoted into the fourth grade will be higher.”

Oakley said that beginning in the spring of 2019, students will have to score a “three” or higher in the reading section of the MAP (Mississippi Assessment Program) test.

In this January, 2015, video, Jeff Davis Elementary School third-grade teachers talk about what was then the new state reading proficiency requirement for third-grade students to advance in Mississippi

“Right now, we can’t tell school districts what the success rates will look like; the tests will tell us that,” he said. “In the spring of 2018, almost 74 percent of all of our students met that third level.”

But will the success rate drop for students in the spring of 2019?

“Yes, we expect to see the promotion to fourth grade drop, which is not indicative of our students’ success, but a change in state law,” Oakley said.

Parents react

The reaction to the new implementation of the new law was mixed among parents on the Sun Herald’s Facebook page.

One of the common threads among those who are opposed to the new standard is the focus on testing in the schools.

“I hate the amount of pressure the schools put on these kids for this test. Kids come home crying and scared to death of this test,” Carrie Cassel Seal posted. “I think school should be to teach kids, not teach them to pass a test! I do not like this test at all.”

The sentiment was shared by Carrie Ziegler Bartlett, who said that she and her husband are not only parents, but teachers as well. But Bartlett said the continued cuts to the state’s education budget are also problematic.

“I have a third-grader this year. I’m afraid that the focus on the test is going to continue to wear away at a possibility for a love of learning,” Barlett said in her Facebook post. “We know how important it is that our students and our daughter be able to read on grade level, but in order to help my third-grader and my future students, at least adequate funding for public education is essential.”

Katie Ziegler, who said that she teaches seventh grade students, said that she has seen students fall through the cracks when it comes to being able to read.

”I really hope this is used to truly help children,” Ziegler posted. “As a seventh grade ELA teacher, I have students making it to me on a second-grade reading level. Hopefully, catching the students that truly need extra help while they’re still learning to read as opposed to reading to learn will help them be more successful in future years.”

But the success of the program, Ziegler said, depends on adequate funding.

“In order for any of it to be successful though, the funding has to be there for an adequate number of teachers and the resources,” she said.

The bottom 25 percent

Although the state has a passing rate under the old standards of about 75 percent, what will become of the “bottom 25?” Will the percentage increase? What will happen to the students who are falling behind on the reading assessment?

“There are number of plans in action for students that have been retained,” Oakley said. “But this is really based on what’s happening from kindergarten through third grade.”

He said parents also can play a role in setting their children up for success.

“Read to your children and start doing so to them when they are at an early age,” Oakley said. “It builds a vocabulary and an understanding.”

The Gulfport School District, one of the largest school districts on the Coast, scored in the top of the state at 95 percent or above. But even though the school has a high rate of passing, there are still students who are not making the cut.

Gulfport schools, East said, already has systems in place to help those who are failing the reading assessment.

“We have two more opportunities to get them through the gateway,” he said. “We have teachers and tutors who know these students well and know their shortcomings and they have been working with them and will continue to do so.”

There’s a possibility, East said, that the new standard could change the school’s bottom line financially.

“I have no idea what our success rate will be, but if we have enough students that are retained, we may have to open another classroom and hire another teacher,” East said.

English Language Arts performance level descriptions

Level 1:

  • Students scoring at this level are unable to consistently demonstrate the skills necessary to read and write independently according to the specific grade level standards.

Level 2:

  • Students scoring at this level typically struggle to independently read texts at the appropriate complexity and may show difficulty meeting grade level reading, writing, and language standards without significant support from the teacher.

Level 3:

  • Students scoring at this level are beginning to independently read texts at the appropriate complexity levels and may or may not meet grade level reading, writing, and language standards with little to no support from the teacher.

Level 4:

  • Students scoring at this level are able to read texts at the appropriate complexity levels, while beginning to read texts at higher complexity levels. Students show mastery of most to all grade level reading, writing, and language standards.

Level 5:

  • Students scoring at this level are able to read very complex texts and show mastery of all grade level reading, writing, and language standards.

— Courtesy Mississippi Department of Education

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