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House could reverse vote pausing third grade reading mandate

schoolJACKSON — Some Mississippi lawmakers staged a brief revolt Tuesday against plans to fail thousands of poorly reading third graders this spring, but that movement is already melting away.

A number of House Republicans joined all but one Democrat to amend House Bill 745 to wait another year before requiring school districts to hold back the students. But by the end of business Tuesday, so many of those GOP members sought to change their votes that it would have changed the outcome of the proposal for a delay. That could clear the way to strip the provision from the bill.

Last year, about 6,500 of Mississippi’s 37,000 third graders scored “minimal” on state standardized tests, which would be below the required basic level. No passing score has yet been adopted for this year’s test, and won’t be until after students take it in April.

Rep. Lataisha Jackson, D-Como, offered the amendment that set off the revolt. She and other Democrats argued that it’s unfair for Mississippi to hold back students because it hasn’t provided a reading coach to every school that serves grades K-3, and hasn’t provided other help to all schools. Mississippi’s system is modeled on Florida, which spent much more and worked toward one coach per school. Mississippi is spending $15 million on the program, but would have to spend at least $25 million to match Florida’s per-capita effort.

“We cannot say we’re going to follow the model of another state and not put the proper funds in the program,” Jackson said.

As of January, Mississippi had coaches in 87 low-scoring schools, out of about 400 schools that serve grades K-3. The department also has provided grants to some other schools where it hasn’t hired coaches directly.

House Education Committee John Moore said lawmakers would be doing a disservice by letting students continue.

“My question to the House is: how long do we wait?” Moore asked. “When a child is leaving the third grade and going to fourth grade and cannot read, they are forever doomed.”

Many education studies have found forcing a student to repeat a grade has little long-term benefit and a lot of harm. But supporters of the third-grade mandate don’t see it that way.

“It is disappointing that 62 members of the House of Representatives would vote to socially promote children who cannot read,” Gov Phil Bryant said in a statement. “With votes like this, it is little wonder that Mississippi’s public education system has been an abysmal failure.”

 

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