Senate Bill 2347, the Literacy Based Promotion Act, also known as the Third Grade Reading Gateway, is designed to improve the reading skills of kindergarten through third grade students enrolled in public schools so that every student completing the third grade is able to read at or above grade level.
West Bolivar School District Superintendent Henry Phillips said he doesn’t believe the bill is rational.
"If proper preparations were made, then I would not have a problem with the Third Grade Reading Gateway. Other states were allowed to have reading coaches and other forms of remediation to allow students to have time to adjust," said Phillips.
"In Florida they phased in this law over a number of years and they prepared teachers. They also encourage their teachers to place strong emphasis on reading. They were properly prepared for this and if Mississippi had done all of this and received money for assistance, I would not have a problem with it," he added.
"We basically passed a law that was modeled after Florida but we didn’t do any of the other things that Florida did in terms of preparation for implementation of the law," continued Phillips.
Phillips said although public schools in Mississippi were not adequately informed about the bill, it is state mandated and his school district is striving to ensure that the students are prepared.
"If it affects any child that is one too many so what we try to do is pay real close attention to where the children are and we notify parents during the nine week period of where their child is academically and in terms of reading," added Phillips.
The Mississippi Department of Education has defined four state reading goals: all children will exit kindergarten with appropriate readiness skills; all first through third grade students will demonstrate growth toward proficiency in reading to ensure they exit third grade as readers; all fourth through ninth grade reading scores will improve; and Mississippi students will reach or exceed the national average in reading within the next decade.
"We began notifying parents who have children in kindergarten through second grade. We try to keep parents informed about the progress of children so that they can help us in trying to catch the child up if there is a deficiency," he continued.
Phillips said his school district has hired a literacy coach for the elementary schools.
"Part of her job is to help us identify the students who are in need of special assistance. After those children are identified, we try to make an effort to prescribe remedies that will help the child," added Phillips.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, a student scoring at the lowest level of achievement in reading on the established state assessment for third grade will not be promoted to fourth grade.
"The children who are retained are given additional remediation and if that does not happen then that child still remains in the third grade. After the child goes through the intensive remediation, we are hoping that they would be successful with the test," said Phillips.
"I am sure that there are some provisions that would allow the child to move on with extensive remediation during the following year," he added.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education students who receive intensive intervention for two or more years but still demonstrate deficiency in reading and were previously retained for two years in any grade will be exempted from the Third Grade Reading Gateway.
Before a student is exempted a teacher must submit documentation to the principal indicating promotion is appropriate based on the student's record.
The principal must review and discuss the documentation with the teacher and parents and determine whether or not to promote the student based on the statute requirements.
The parents of any student promoted may choose to retain the child even if the principal and the district superintendent determine otherwise.
North Bolivar School District Superintendent Jesse King said the new implementation is going to impact a large number of students throughout the state.
"In the district that I currently serve, I believe that we will have some impact but we will also have a number of students that will be ready to move on to the fourth grade," said King.
"Our goal is to have a 100 percent passing rate but like most goals receiving a perfect score does not happen. I believe that is going to have a marginal impact," he added
"We have been assessing children often and practicing for the impending mandates for next year. We have seen an improvement in our reading scores and we have used assessments to monitor student growth in reading," added King.
"We are making strides in the right direction to make sure that children are prepared for the Third Grade Reading Gateway," he added.
Phillips said his district also implements professional development for teachers, remediation for children and beneficial supplemental instruction.
He also said he believes a large number of children may be affected by the assessment because many of them have not been prepared in lower grade levels.
"Too many of our children are entering kindergarten unprepared and this could be a potential problem down the road. We have to get the message out to the parents that their children have to be ready to start school and I am not talking about buying clothes," said Phillips.
"They need to be read to at very young ages before they come to school, he added.
King said the assessment would affect graduation rates.
"I really believe that reading is important. The Third Grade Reading Gateway is going to impact graduation rates. Graduation rates do not start in high school, they start in pre-kindergarten," said King.
"Whether the assessment is going to be beneficial as it relates to retention, I don’t believe that is necessarily the answer. I do believe reading should be a priority throughout the state because it is certainly necessary for comprehension, critical thinking and all those educational attributes that children should acquire," he added.
Although the Third Grade Reading Gateway has caused a great deal of conflict legislation has appropriated $9.5 million to be used for training and employing district based literacy coaches and training teachers and principals in kindergarten through third grade.
"We are living in the information age and you have to be able to do all of the things that are associated with reading like fluency and comprehension. Reading is vital to the success of our children," said Phillips.
"I think that if we can get the children earlier enough and introduce them to a rigorous curriculum, they will be ready for a third grade reading assessment. I do not believe in retention, having effective classrooms and effective teaching should keep the children caught up rather than playing catch up," continued Phillips.
For more information visit www.mde.k12.ms.us.