For the first time, third graders in Mississippi could be held back if they can't read at grade level by the end of the school year. It's part of a new law that went into effect last month aimed at improving literacy achievement throughout a student's life. But some critics of the law say the state has not done enough to ensure the mandates success.
Two years ago, nearly 5,000 third graders in Mississippi scored "minimal" on state standardized reading tests. While the 2012 assessments did little but measure how students were doing in a particular subject, under a new state law those same tests could have the power to hold back a student if they cannot read well enough.
State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright believes the law or as it's known the third grade reading gate program will help teachers deliver better one-on-one help to students that need it the most.
“It really depends on where the child is and then what interventions we need to put into place,” says Wright. “A good teacher, a diagnostic-teacher will give the assessment and say ‘Oh, I see these give students need this, I see these three students need this,’ and as the day goes on and as the language arts block goes on they pull those students to work on those skills that they’re missing.”
That extra attention was to come from both teachers and specially trained literacy coaches hired by the state. Education officials hoped to hire 75 coaches before the start of this school year, but the Mississippi Department of Education was only able to hire 41.
Nita Rudy is with Parents for Public Schools. She says 41 special instructors are not enough to assist the students of the more than 450 elementary schools in the state.
“If we talk to a lot of elementary school teachers many of them would say they don’t have all of the professional development they would want with reading.” Rudy says. “So putting in a program that says you can’t move forward unless you can read at third grade level, and then not putting the extra reading teachers in the schools so that they can help the children. I think it’s going to cause more problems then it will address.”
Despite the lack of coaches, education officials are moving forward the implementation of the reading gate. If students do flunk they will be required to get intensive attention next year, including 90-minutes of uninterrupted reading instruction a day and 30 to 60 minutes of one-on-one or small group instruction multiple times a week.