Almost Half of MS 3rd Grade Students May Face Retention Due to Legislative Underfunding

children at capitol children firstNovember 18, 2013, Jackson, MSNew data released by the MS Department of Education shows that approximately 44% of 3rd grade students may face retention under the new 3rd Grade Literacy Promotion Act

Data released by the MS Dept. of Education on MCT2 test data shows that during the past two years, 2012 and 2013, approximately 44% of 3rd grade students performed less than Proficient.

The MDE data raises the specter that when the new 3rd Grade Literacy Promotion Act takes effect for the 2014-2015 school year that almost half of 3rd grade students may face retention in the 3rd grade. See the table in the article which shows the 39 schools in 29 districts identified by the MS Dept. of Education with the highest percentages of students who scored less than Proficient.

At the heart of the 3rd Grade Literacy Promotion Law is the mandate that all Mississippi schools:

  • identify all students beginning in Kindergarten or 1st grade who are deficient in reading skills AND
  • provide each of these students with reading intervention by well-trained teachers or literacy coaches to ensure that by the 3rd grade these students can progress from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”.
  • Being able to read to learn is critical beginning in the 4th grade and is supposed to be a critical part of the standard to be used to assess promotion versus retention.

According to Florida proponents of the 3rd grade literacy gate who advised the MDE Task Force on Accountability, Florida received approximately $1 billion dollars in grants and new appropriations to fund the statewide Florida effort to provide literacy coaches to train teachers to be competent to teach literacy. Mississippi has grossly under-funded the program thus far, with little prospect that legislative leaders are willing to entertain funding this program with the funds necessary for it to succeed.

The working premise of the 3rd grade literacy program is that at present most kindergarten and elementary teachers do NOT know how to enable students to progress from learning to read to reading to learn. This premise was uncontested during the entire deliberations of the Task Force that considered the recommendation to enact the 3rd grade literacy gate.

There is no prospect at this time that a program will be rolled out that will provide all students with the supports mandated under the law. MDE states that they anticipate it will take 3 years to “train” all teachers in the state, while acknowledging MDE has only been able to employ one-third of the literacy coaches it sought: 24 of 75.

NEVERTHELESS, most 3rd grade students will be faced with the consequence of retention at the end of the 2014-2015 school year without receiving the supports mandated by the law.

If our very intelligent, knowledgeable legislators vote to seriously underfund the 3rd grade literacy gate; and understand that its mandates for supports and interventions cannot be properly and fully implemented without sufficient funding; but they continue to refuse to effectively fund this program and willfully retain the negative consequence of 3rd grade retention; isn’t it reasonable to conclude that these legislators are not so much interested in students “reading to learn” as they are motivated to retain students in the 3rd grade?

For some of our legislators the creation of a specter of systemic “3rd grade failure” is another way to:

  • disparage, devalue and diminish our traditional public schools in the eyes of parents and public officials AND
  • generate an atmosphere of despair and desperation among parents and public officials IN ORDER TO
  • build support for public funding of charter schools, virtual schools, and other privately-owned, privately-governed, publicly-funded education alternatives.

Helen Johnson, Southern Echo’s Education Coordinator, commented, “Legislators cannot chant the mantra of “it’s about the children” and wrap themselves in the flag of traditional public school reform, while at the same time design a 3rd grade literacy gate program, knowingly underfund it so as to doom the program to insufficient implementation, and thereby deny to students the literacy tools and skills they so desperately need.”

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