Time to Rethink Third-Grade Tests | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Time to Rethink Third-Grade Tests

As predicted, a sizable chunk of Mississippi's third-grade students failed the so-called third-grade reading gate test and may have to repeat the whole school year.

To be exact, as much as 15 percent of kids in the third grade might be held back if they don't score better in two make-up exams in the coming weeks. In Jackson Public Schools, the state's largest urban school district, the numbers are even higher, nearly double the statewide average. It could have been worse; JPS was actually bracing to flunk two-fifths of all third graders.

The thinking behind the legislation, officially called the Literacy-Based Promotion Act and based on a similar plan Jeb Bush pushed when he was governor of Florida, was to invest in reading instruction during kindergarten through second grade. That way, by the time kids tested in third grade, only the students who needed the most reading help would be retained.

But that's not what happened. For one, the Legislature never provided schools the funds to hire enough literacy coaches. As a result, as JPS Superintendent Dr. Cedrick Gray told this paper, the district had to get creative in reallocating scarce resources to focus on preparing students for the test even though schools were not told ahead of time what the pass-fail score would be.

In other words, schools had to focus all their resources on the third grade. Now, JPS will have to use more resources to re-prep kids one or two more times. No matter what happens, however, third-grade classrooms will be larger in JPS and around the state come next year, and there will be no additional funding for it.

We can't help but wonder how few students would have failed the test had the state actually followed the lead of Florida (instead of just pretending to), which earmarked around $1 billion for its literacy program and focused on teaching reading in the earlier grades. We are certain that the numbers would have been miniscule had the Legislature followed the law for the past 17 years and provided schools adequate funding under MAEP.

The state could redirect money taxpayers are shelling out on attorneys for the state's lawsuits: one to block a ballot initiative that would require adequate education funding, and one to close down the state's only abortion clinic.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a Republican-led effort seeks to do away with the testing. A state Senate committee is reviewing the proposal. So maybe get rid of the tests altogether? If Gov. Bryant thought it was a good idea to follow Florida in implementing the third-grade gate, maybe he should follow the state's example and seriously rethink it.

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