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BILL CRAWFORD: Legislature not at fault for bad reading scores

Bill Crawford

Bill Crawford

In schools districts that fared poorly on the 3rd grade reading tests, many school officials and parents blame lack of funding by the legislature.

For example, Superintendent Powell Rucker attributed Holmes County’s 59 percent passing rate to student poverty, lack of funding, and rapid teacher turnover.
“It is not a test that even needed to be administered, because the state did not fully fund it,” Jackson parent Cassandra Welchlin told WLBT-TV.
Yazoo City Schools Assistant Superintendent Lucille Lovette blamed lack of full MAEP funding after nearly half of her 3rd graders failed the reading test.
Gov. Phil Bryant’s “third grade gate,” intended to stop social promotion, simply says that no 3rd grader can move to the 4th grade unless he or she passes a test showing ability to read at grade level. It is modeled after a successful Florida program. In its first year, Florida held back 14.4 percent of 3rd graders. So far, 14.8 percent of Mississippi’s 3rd graders will be held back. But, students get two more chances to pass the test. And others will receive “good cause exemptions,” such as being an English-language learner or having a disability.
The final percentage held back should be less than Florida’s, a positive result, no doubt from extraordinary efforts made by many schools.
Indeed, results suggest school leadership, teacher preparation, and instructional methodology had more to do with pass rates than funding.
Consider West Clay Elementary School in rural Cedarbluff which had a 100 percent pass rate. “The students are poor kids from poor households – 99 percent are eligible for free or reduced school lunches – and 89 percent of them are black. Many are from single-parent homes, some are being raised by grandparents. They are the children of laborers and unskilled workers. Few, if any, of the parents have had the benefit of higher education,” reported the Columbus Dispatch Principal Dr. Helen Kennard explained that her C rated school reallocated funds to hire an additional third-grade teacher, used fall and spring reading assessments to formulate one-on-one plans for struggling students, and paid close attention to lesson plans and materials.
Instructional methods were clearly a factor in positive pass rates.  McWillie Elementary in Jackson uses the Montessori method. Davis Magnet in Jackson uses the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. Nora Davis Magnet School in Laurel is a model school for the Mississippi Arts Commission Whole Schools Initiative. All three serve disproportionately low-income, African-American student populations and achieved 100 percent pass rates.
Nettleton Primary, a D rated school with a 33 percent reading proficiency rate last year, had a 98 percent pass rate. Leadership made a difference here. Superintendent Michael Cates told the Associated Press the district provided extra tutoring to students two and three times a week.
These, other examples, and the overall pass rate of 85.2 percent suggest the legislature is not at fault for bad school performance on the reading test… and that Bryant’s gate is working.
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)


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One comment

  1. Holmes County has been known for a million excuses why the kids are not learning. Let me be honest. As someone who personally taught in this county and my wife did as well, cheating on tests has been going on for a long time. Imagine, when kids used to leave the elementary school in one town, they were supposed to read at more than grade level. The next year in Middle School they could not read a simple text. Summer must have been really busy for the kids to remember nothing of what had gone on before. But then, my wife who used to teach elementary, told me that teachers were helping their students with answers on the tests.
    The reason kids are not learning here is no parental support, lousy teachers and far too much administrators, a central office that is top heavy with friends and relatives of the superintendent, people who draw good salaries but cannot or will not do a good job.

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