Legislators passed the Literacy-Based Promotion Act in 2014 despite concerns of public-education advocates over the lack of adequate funding to hire reading coaches. After a legislative effort to postpone the tests failed during the session, testing began this week and will conclude next week. Photo courtesy Karen Stintz
With testing for the so-called 3rd grade reading gate—which requires students to pass a literacy test before moving to the next grade—now under way around the state, some public school leaders say they're frustrated because they haven't been told what a passing grade is for the test.
Legislators passed the Literacy-Based Promotion Act in 2013 despite concerns of public-education advocates over the lack of adequate funding to hire reading coaches. After a legislative effort to postpone the tests failed during the session, testing began this week and will conclude next week.
"It's going as smoothly as it can go," Dr. Cedrick Gray, the superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, told the Jackson Free Press of the testing.
Gray said that because the district wasn't told ahead of time what score students need to pass, it was difficult to prepare them for the exam. Citing figures from the education and labor advocacy group Southern Echo, Gray said JPS could have to retain up to 40 percent of the district's 2,100 3rd-graders. Another study from the Mississippi Association of State Superintendents predicted a retention rate of 28 percent of 3rd-grade students.
Dr. Kymyona Burk, the state literacy director for the Mississippi Department of Education, explained that establishing standards after testing is completed is customary. After the tests conclude on April 23, a 25-member panel will convene to establish the standards, including a so-called "cut score" (pass-fail grade) for the tests. Before the next school year, students will have two more chances to retake the test before having to repeat the 3rd grade.
JPS and other schools asked the Legislature to delay testing for one year to have more preparation time. The fact that lawmakers allocated only $15 million to hire literacy coaches drew criticism from Democrats. Dr. Gray could not recall how many literacy coaches JPS hired with its portion, but that the district used some of its own staff for coaching. Information from MDE released this week shows that the agency surpassed its goal of 75 coaches. With an addition of three literacy coaches, MDE would be able to add 38 schools to those the agency can serve, from 87 to 125.
Burk, whose daughter is in the 3rd grade, takes exception to claims that MDE kept school officials in the dark, saying that the agency held a webinar in December and sent sample test questions to schools and parents.
"We've done a lot over the past 19 months or so," to prepare parents and school officials for the 3rd grade test, she said.
Correction: This story is updated to correct the spelling of Dr. Kymyona Burk's first name. We apologize for the error.