FC third graders fare well on reading gate assessment

by Sean Dunlap

Local third graders fared better than their peers across the state in the 2022 edition of the “reading gate” assessment, which is a state-mandated requirement for promotion to the fourth grade, according to Superintendent of Education Chris Kent.

“We typically get those results back fairly quickly and we were pleased with what we saw,” Kent told the Franklin County Board of Education during its regular monthly business meeting on Tuesday, June 21.

“On the first take of the assessment, the state’s average pass rate was 73.9 percent. Franklin County’s pass rate was 85.9 percent. That’s 12 percentage points better than the state and is awesome news for our school district.”

Kent said in the aftermath of the first assessment, seven local students who initially did not pass retook the test with six of those successfully completing the effort.

“The bottom line is that our classes are doing a great job especially where reading is concerned, Kent said. “Reading is essential to the learning process, and our teachers have done excellent work in making this instructional effort successful.”

In 2013, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2347 — “The Mississippi Third Grade Literacy Promotion Act,” which sought to improve student basic reading skills beginning in kindergarten and extending through third grade.

Lawmakers said the measure’s intended purpose was to allow students to grow by reading to learn and to develop critical thinking skills while mastering other subjects such as mathematics, science, English and history.

Students must score a 3 or higher (based on a 1-to-5 scale) on the assessment to be promoted, which indicates they are competent in skills such as identifying main ideas, paraphrasing texts, understanding figurative language, determining the author’s point of view as well as their own, and using root words, prefixes and suffixes to change word meanings. 

In addition to regular instruction, Kent noted the act requires school districts across the Magnolia State to provide intensive, research-based reading instruction and intervention for students who exhibit a substantial deficiency in reading during their early elementary school years.

In all, 31,068 third graders across Mississippi took the initial assessment this year with 22,947 passing on the first try.

The 8,121 students statewide who did not pass on their first attempt had the opportunity to retest between May 9 and 13 with a third chance slated to take place between June 20 and July 8.

Kim Benton, who serves as the Mississippi Department of Education’s interim chief academic officer, said schools with high initial pass rates — like Franklin County — attributed their results to maximizing in-person instruction and maintaining a full schedule of instructional days, strengthening communication with families and utilizing the support materials from MDE. 

There were some concerns how the coronavirus pandemic might have impacted student learning as the test was not given in 2020.

But, in 2021, the assessment was administered, however the scores weren’t a determining factor in whether students moved on to fourth grade due to the virus.

State officials confirmed 2022 testing numbers were on par with or better than what was recorded in 2019 – the last time the test was fully administered before the outbreak of COVID-19.

As a point of reference, Franklin County’s first round of third grade reading gate assessments from 2019 showed 76.7 percent of local students mastering the test while 23.3 percent did not meet requirements initially.