Itawamba County School District’s (ICSD) third-grade reading assessment scores for the 2018-2019 school term dipped slightly compared to the previous year.

Commonly known as “Reading Gate,” the Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA) passed during the 2013 legislative session requires third-graders to pass the test before being promoted to the fourth grade.

Local students had a pass rate of 90.6% on the 2018-2019 test, according to scores recently released by the Mississippi Department of Education. This is a nearly 5% drop from the previous year.

Since the LBPA’s enaction in 2014-2015 school term, Itawamba County third-graders have hovered in the 94th percentile.

Although percentages show a decrease, this year’s students were required to score at Level 3 or higher on the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program English Language Arts assessment’s reading portion. In previous years, students only had to reach Level 2 (or basic level). The assessment test has five levels.

ICSD Superintendent of Education Trae Wiygul said he believes the increase in score levels was a precursor of the end result.

“Moving from Level 2 to Level 3 played a significant part in the decline of the percentage, especially since the passing score was increased so much,” Wiygul said.

Of the 35,053 third graders tested statewide, 85.6% scored at Level 3. 5,049 students, or 14.4%, failed to meet the higher standards on this year’s test.

Itawamba County students scored above the state average, a point of pride for the local superintendent.

“The students and teachers did an incredible job of preparing for Reading Gate, and it showed in the results,” Wiygul said. “I am extremely proud of our school district.”

The law’s purpose is to identify kindergarten through third-grade students who need additional help in reading as early as possible in hopes of providing effective instruction and intervention to ensure they read on grade level by the end of third grade.

The law also allows “good-cause exemptions” for some special education students and English language learners who are receiving documented, intensive support from their districts.

School districts must provide third-grade students who are not promoted with intensive instructional services, progress monitoring measures and support to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency. In addition, they cannot be retained more than twice.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 16 states, plus D.C., require retention for students not reading at proficiency by the end of the third grade.

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