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State's Retention Policy Based on Reading Scores Spurs Debate

State's Retention Policy Based on Reading Scores Spurs Debate

Approximately 5,612 third graders in Mississippi were informed earlier this month that they had not met the reading score determined by the state's Board of Education, meaning that as a result of legislation signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, they face the possibility of being held back.

According to the Hechinger Report, the Mississippi third graders that did not meet the minimum required reading score "took the test again May 18 to 22 and were notified immediately by the computer whether or not they passed, said Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education. The state has not yet released the most recent numbers of how many passed."

If they fail the test a second time, they will be required to attend summer school and test again. If they fail the third time, they will be held back from the fourth grade, a possibility that worries parents and stresses the students out.

Bryant has said he was inspired by a similar Florida program that resulted in success through retaining underperforming third graders, according to the Hechinger Report, but has instituted a program that features several key differences from its inspiration.

For one, Florida spent over $1 billion to help boost literacy in early grades while, thus far, Mississippi has spent less than $25 million.

"For Mississippi, the money meant less than a hundred literacy coaches for the state’s 426 elementary schools," though in 2013 Bryant did add intensive support for retained third graders as well as a mandate for smaller class sizes, the article said.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, Florida allowed for students who failed the reading test exemption from being held back based on a portfolio of the student's work, and " in the first six years of the program slightly more than half of the students who failed the test received an exemption."

Mississippi, on the other hand, grants exemptions solely to those with special needs, English language learners, and students who have already been retained once.

Even more cause for debate is the actual effectiveness of retaining students.The benefits of retaining underperforming students are inconclusive. Some studies, in fact, point to negative consequences from holding students back.

One study, according to the article, "found that grade retention has been shown to increase the risk of dropping out by 20 percent to 50 percent."

Many in opposition of retention argue that struggling readers should go on to the next grade and receive support there from adequately trained teachers.

Specifically in Mississippi, those who oppose the retention policy argue that disadvantaged students are the ones largely affected and therefore are disadvantaged even more. They also argue that the tests do not tell teachers more than what they don't already know based on interacting with their students, rendering tests and retention as a pointless endeavor.

As for the students, many parents describe their third grade children struggling to read as "nauseous" over both taking the test and receiving the results.

Read the full article here and comment on your thoughts about retaining underperforming students below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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